Britain needs to fill the global leadership vacuum that is allowing Bashar al-Assad to starve Syrians
Andrew Mitchell writes for The Telegraph
“Aleppo is the new Srebrenica.” That simple phrase from the former UN humanitarian chief, Jan Egeland, should send chills down the spines of leaders around the world. The massacre of thousands of men, women, and children a little over 20 years ago at Srebrenica represents a monumental failure by the international community – a failure that we are repeating today in Aleppo.
Aleppo, a city that was formerly home to 2.3 million Syrians, is now under siege, the country’s own government tightening a noose around its neck. This was a beautiful, ancient city, continuously inhabited for the last 6,000 years. Today Syrian and Russian forces are pummeling the city and deliberately starving its people.
There is a global leadership vacuum which the UK can and must step in to fill – even more urgently following the referendum, to counter any idea of our "strategic shrinkage" from the world. President Obama is in the twilight of his Presidency, Europe is in turmoil. Britain has a critical role at the Security Council and in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG). We must vigorously use the privilege we have as one of the world’s key power-brokers.
The UK Government, to its credit, has been outspoken. At the Security Council, our Ambassador quoted a doctor from Aleppo Children’s hospital, one of only 35 doctors remaining in the city, who said, “if nothing is done, we are surely facing death.”
Aleppo shrouded in 'smoke curtain' as Syrians try to defend against ai
Yet nothing is being done. Strong statements are insufficient to dent Russian cynical self-interest and American cynical indifference. They bring no comfort to the parents of a two-day old child murdered by a midnight airstrike last week.
If we fail to act, the ancient city will forever be a symbol of international shame: Rwanda, Srebrenica, Aleppo. The UK can use our influence with the Syrian opposition as well as forceful diplomacy at the ISSG to deliver the UN’s proposal for weekly 48-hour humanitarian pauses to allow aid in to Aleppo.
Recently, thousands of people being starved by their government in other towns across Syria received aid for the first time in years because the UK was willing to threaten humanitarian airdrops, something Bashar al Assad was desperate to avoid. Humanitarian airdrops must remain on the table as long as the regime continues to use starvation as a weapon of war. And the UK should be ready to join its international partners in establishing No Bombing Zones to deter continued Syrian war crimes.
Down the ages, Britain has been a beacon for liberal values and humanitarianism. In these desperate times, the lives of terrorised people of Aleppo depend on international leaders finding the courage to act.