The conflict in Syria is entering the endgame with a final show-down in Idlib. The Assad regime has won this bloody conflict, with the uncompromising help of its Russian and Iranian allies. The world should be under no doubt the lengths these forces will go to in order to subdue this final province in Syria. 2.4m civilians are trapped, over 75% are IDPs from Aleppo and most recently Ghouta. The 2 great crimes against humanity, chemical weapons and attacking hospitals are likely pivotal to this final assault. Hospitals have already been targeted, and as recently as this Monday in Idlib – these attacks break the morale of the people, when there is no hope of medical support.
Britain has now shown its mettle recently with the French and Americans, by attacking Syria’s chemical weapons capability after the devastating attack in Douma last month, and gone someway to re-impose the ‘Redline’ on chemical weapon use, and we should do the same to protect hospitals.
The civilians trapped in Idlib would become refugees if they could, but Europe could not readily absorb 2.4m more refugees without much angst and derision. They are trapped with the remnants of Al’Queda and ISIS, who are fighting amongst themselves as well as the Regime and its allies. Idlib has become the dumping ground for all who oppose the regime or who fear for their lives in regime-held areas. Without hope or help, they could turn to ISIS and breathe new life into the Caliphate, which has taken so much blood and toil to take down.
Dr. David Nott and I have briefed Ministers and MPs from across the House, asking that the UK take a stand, and we understand the Prime Minister is now minded to act. Ideally, we can create No Fly Zones or Redlines around hospitals to protect them, which the Geneva Convention directs anyway. At the right of arc, we shoot down aircraft responsible for attacks and the left of arc, and probably more realistic ‘name and shame’ perpetrators through aircraft tracking, and collect evidence for the International Criminal Court for war crimes prosecutions in future. This is well within the compass of the RAF and UK intelligence assets alone. The Union of Syrian medical Charities (OSSM), who David and I support, give the co-ordinates of our hospitals to the UN, who, as international law dictates, gives these to the Russians and Syrian Regime, who then use this sacrosanct information to directly target these places. Only 4 weeks ago in Douma the UOSSM hospital, which was underground, was destroyed 48 hrs after Jan Egeland of the UN gave the co-ordinates to the regime. We also ask for humanitarian aid into Idlib to feed these people and put medicines into the hospitals. The UK and Western governments are not keen to deal directly with charities working in Syria because of the possibility of some of the aid falling into Jihadist hands. Our view is so what? We have both worked with OSSM in Syria for 5 years and can vouch for the clinical excellence and integrity of their people working in Syria, and we trust them to get aid to where it is needed, especially if we are not prepared to put our or UN ‘boots on the ground’ to do this.
Dr. David Nott OBE
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE
Directors ‘Doctors Under Fire’ & advisors to UOSSM