‘Have we turned our backs and left innocent Syrian citizens to the bombs and chemicals of despots?’

This week in Parliament, Redcar MP Anna Turley, urged Britain to commit to action to protect civilians in Aleppo as the East of the city came under assault by Syrian Government forces backed by Russia.

Concerns for the safety of civilians have grown with the UN warning raids by the Syrian government and its allies on civilian areas could be violating international law.

In one devastating incident, militia forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were reported to have entered homes and killed at least 82 people.

Aid has also been blocked from reaching major cities and Russian and Assad forces destroyed the only remaining hospital in Eastern Aleppo.

On Tuesday MPs held a debate on the situation in Aleppo. Anna and others called for the Government to act to protect civilian lives.

In the chamber, Anna said:

“There is no doubt that the civilian atrocities taking place at the hands of Assad and Putin in Aleppo are among the worst that we have witnessed in decades. As a teenager watching the horrors of Rwanda or Srebrenica, I used to think, “Why don’t they do something?” Well, “they” are now us, and what are we doing? We have turned our face away. It is three years since this place voted not to respond to Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people. It is 15 months since little Alan Kurdi was found face down on a beach in Turkey. It is a year since we rightly voted to take action on ISIS in the east of Syria and nine months since Jo Cox was granted an urgent question on breaches of the then ceasefire. It is two weeks since we stood here and discussed aid drops and safe passage. What have we actually done to save a single civilian life in Aleppo? Nothing.

“We are watching a fascist dictator, backed by a corrupt global power, use chemical weapons and barrel bombs against his own people for daring to want a better life and a better Government. Have we turned away because of more important local issues or because of the siren call to first look after our own? When we talk of “our own”, that should not stop at our constituency boundaries nor, I am afraid, at the white cliffs of Dover. All humanity is “our own” and we have a responsibility and a duty to act. We are not so poor as a nation, financially or morally, that we should turn our backs on what we see on distant shores, not least because it will eventually find its way to us, whether in the form of terror on our own streets or refugee families seeking sanctuary in our estates. We cannot be frozen by the guilt surrounding well-intentioned military action of the past, as the right hon. Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne) so eloquently said. If we are left disappointed or ashamed by difficult and lengthy struggles in Iraq, we must learn the right lessons, which are there in black and white in Chilcot, that when the potential for military action arises we should not commit until it is clear that it can be achieved. We should properly prepare for what comes afterwards and work better with regional partners. Those are the lessons to learn. We should not turn our backs and leave innocent citizens to the bombs and chemicals of despots.​

“The world is getting smaller by the day and we must play our part in it. We must decide what that part is and what duty we owe to humanity. That duty now looks to be two things. First, as we have heard today, we must get people out immediately. Medics, children, mums—citizens—are trapped and we have to evacuate them as soon as possible. We must get humanitarian aid in as a matter of emergency. We have to urge international action to call an immediate ceasefire. As the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said, we must identify the war crimes and bring people to account. Secondly, we must pledge never again to turn our backs, never again to be ground down or put off by the length or difficulty of the struggle, never to give in to moral equivalence between brutal fascist dictatorships and a people’s struggle for self-determination and freedom. We must pledge never to be so determinedly full of self-indulgent self-loathing for the West that we do not believe that we can play a positive role for the good of the world. Never again should we lack a sense of responsibility to humanity, wherever it is and however hard the struggle.”

A ceasefire has now been signed and an evacuation is under way. However there continues to be reports of gunfire, including a volunteer clearing an evacuation route for ambulances being shot by a sniper.

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