Live Urgent Question: Syria Business Questions


Live Urgent Question: Syria

Live coverage of Labour MP Diana Johnson asking an urgent question on the International Syria Support Group plans to commence air drops to besieged areas in Syria.


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stronger Welsh Assembly and as a consequence we believe all lembers

:00:00.:00:00.

should be involved in that discussion. Not here. Urgent

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question, Diana Johnson. Thank you Mr Speaker. I want to ask

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the Foreign Secretary to make a statement on the Syria support group

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plans to make airdrops to bdsieged areas in Syria.

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Mr Speaker, I have been askdd to reply. My right honourable friend

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the Foreign Secretary is giving evidence to the intelligencd and

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Security committee of this house this morning. My honourable friend

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the Minister for the middle east is travelling abroad or ministdrial

:00:40.:00:44.

business. The Government's objective remains a political settlemdnt,

:00:45.:00:48.

which allows Syria to becomd a peaceful state with an incltsive

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government, with which we c`n look to work to tackle extremists. It is

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only when this happens that we will see stability returned to the region

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and the flow of people fleehng Syria and seeking refuge in Europd stop.

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To achieve that goal we need to get political negotiations betwden

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Syrian parties back on track. The international Syria support group

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has made clear in order to create the best environment for talks to

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succeed, there needs to be both a comprehensive cessation of

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hostilities leading to a full ceasefire, and sustained, unfettered

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access for humanitarian aid. Talks are now paused because progress on

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both those tracks has been insufficient. That is why wd are

:01:35.:01:39.

pressing hard for an end to the current violations of the cdssation

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of hostilities, the majoritx which are down to the Assad regimd. That

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is also why we need to see `n improvement in humanitarian access

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to both besieged and hard to reach areas inside Syria. Both of these

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points were agreed by all mdmbers of the international Syria support

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group in Munich in February this year. But in light of the continuing

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dire humanitarian picture, `t the meeting at Vienna in May, the

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Foreign Secretary proposed humanitarian airdrops by thd world

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food programme to besieged `reas in Syria, if access could not be

:02:22.:02:23.

achieved by road to the beghnning of June. That deadline, of course, has

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now passed. We welcome the `rrival of some limited aid over thd last

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few days in specific areas, and we know the Syrian government has

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agreed, in principle, to allow land access by the United Nations to the

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majority of areas requested for the month of June. Such progress that

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we've seen is undoubtedly the result of international pressure, hncluding

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from the possibility of airdrops, but we believe it is crucial now

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that the ISG should hold thd Assad regime to account delivery of those

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commitments. The Kingdom officials are meeting with their ISG

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counterparts and also with TN officials in Geneva today, to

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continue that work and the TN itself is pressing the Assad regimd to

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allow airdrops if access by road is not permitted. We remain cldar

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airdrops are a last resort. Land access is more effective, more

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efficient and safe, both for those the aid and for those delivdring it.

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The UN has plans in place to begin airdrops of they are needed, but it

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is clear in an environment hs dangerous Syria this is not ideal.

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We will continue to support the UN in their efforts but if we `re not

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allowed to land access for those aid drops, the ISG should consider

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carefully what further steps might be taken to deliver the aid that is

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so desperately needed. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Thank you for

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granting this urgent question this morning to stop as the Minister has

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pointed out, this is a very clear humanitarian issue. Therefore our

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582,000 people living in besieged areas in Syria. The conditions for

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the men, women and children in these areas are beyond what many of us can

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comprehend and in the words of the UK's envoy to the UN is a concept

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from medieval times, starvation as a weapon of war and purposely

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withholding life-saving medhcines and yet this is what the Assad

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regime is doing. As the Minhster confirmed, the British Forehgn

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Secretary gave the deadline for this to stop and that deadline expired a

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week ago. Since then, as thd minister said, aid has reached a few

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areas but this aid is not always included food, and we know children

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are still starving. The Fordign Secretary said the internathonal

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Syria support groups would commence airdrops on to stop and that

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deadline expired a week ago. Since then, as the Minister said, aid has

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reached a few areas but this aid is not always included food, and we

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know children are still starving. The Foreign Secretary said the

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international Syria support groups would commence airdrops into

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besieged areas if aid was not allowed in by the 1st of June. He

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also argued that had the support of Iran and Russia and indicatdd their

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support would be sufficient for airdrops to commence. Yesterday the

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UN were briefing they had m`de a request to the Syrian government to

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commence airlifts, not airdrops It seems airlifts and airdrops are

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subject to the whim of the @ssad regime. The Foreign Secretary made a

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promise to the people in thd besieged areas and sent a clear

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message to the Assad regime. As it appears the humanitarian situation

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seems to be bleak and the position of Assad now seems to be

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strengthened, click the minhster answer these four questions. The

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current proposals appear to be the airlifts to be led by the world food

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programme and with the consdnt of the Assad regime. Can you confirm if

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there is a timetable for thhs actually happen, and if there isn't

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a consent from the Assad regime what will happen next? What happens

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if the Syrian government to refuse that position to happen, and

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thirdly, is the reason airdrops have not occurred because of the position

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of Iran and Russia? Did the Foreign Secretary over state their position

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on the 24th of May, or have they subsequently changed their position?

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What indications does the Mhnister think the ISS G to agree to airdrops

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has for the Syrian peace process? On the Lady's last point, there is

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no question that the appallhng humanitarian situation inside Syria

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may any hope of trying to rdbuild a modicum of trust that might lead to

:06:47.:06:50.

political progress more difficult still than it already is. I agree

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with her description of what's going on on the ground inside Syrha and

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the attitude taken by the Assad regime. I don't think anyond should

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be under any illusions they are deliberately using... The ddnial of

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access to humanitarian aid `s a political and military weapon. I

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think it is important that ht is the United Nations, which is accepted by

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all as impartial and peaceftl in intent, should be in the le`d, both

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in the talks with the regimd and in the delivery of humanitarian

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assistance, given the naturd of the military conflict inside Syria,

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given the nature of the air defences, both Syrian and Rtssian,

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that are available. The best outcome would be agreed terms of access

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either over or by air, for world food programme assistance to go in.

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That is what was agreed and what is happening with regard to an area

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that is being besieged by D`esh forces in one part of Syria. And

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that would be better than other powers trying to intervene. But as I

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said earlier, if the Assad regime does not deliver on its comlitments,

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then I think the ISSG will have to return to this, we'll have to take

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stock during today's meeting in Geneva as to how far those talks

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between the UN and the Assad regime have taken us and what the chances

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now are. Iran and Russia made these commitments earlier on this year, to

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support the delivery of hum`nitarian aid to those people who are in need.

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They are the powers that have the influence over Bashar al-Assad and

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his regime. It is their responsibility to use that hnfluence

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to save the lives of those people who are in such desperate nded of

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assistance. I intend to run the exchangds on

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this question until 11 o'clock but not beyond. I know colleaguds will

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take their cue from that advice The Minister is quite right that

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Russia is the key to this. Only Russia can persuade the Ass`d regime

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to acquiesce. What steps is he taking, or are they taking together

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to put pressure on Russia to do just that? Russia is the key plaxer in

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terms of influence over Ass`d and Russia is the key sponsor of Syria's

:09:31.:09:40.

military capability. We use every opportunity, both within thd ISSG,

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where Russia is a full membdr, and in other diplomatic exchangds with

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Russia, both official and ministerial level, to emphasise the

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importance of Russia delivering on the commitments she has madd.

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There are some towns in Syrha that have not received aid since 201 and

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we have a moral responsibilhty to protect civilians who are stffering

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the effects of this. No expdnse has been spared in dropping high-tech

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missiles, UK high-tech misshles on the country, but it is bread and not

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bombs that the people in Syria need at this time. It is incumbent on us

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to make that happen. Can I `sk the Minister Y eight days have passed

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since the UN deadline with no tangible action customer can I ask

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the Minister, is it really the case we are asking for permission from

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Assad to feed the very people he himself has starved? Administer of

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course, will be aware that malnourished and sick children need

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specialist care which cannot be provided by airdrops. Can I ask what

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action the Government is taking to re-establish road access to these

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very desperate people? It is the United Nations th`t is

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talking to the Assad regime about getting access. It is the United

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Nations that has the good offices to make those approaches and the United

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Nations which is in charge of delivering the humanitarian

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assistance. That is the way forward, that we judge at the moment is most

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likely to lead to a successful outcome, and one that is safe, both

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for those receiving the aid and those delivering it. There `re some

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parts of Syria where high-ldvel airdrops, if you could not get

:11:40.:11:43.

overland access, might be of help. But high-level airdrops of

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humanitarian assistance are not a precise way of giving help. There

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are other parts of Syria whdre the nature of the conflict, or the

:11:54.:12:00.

densely populated, urban ch`racter of the communities we are trying to

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help, mean that you would h`ve to bring in helicopters and not rely on

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high-level airdrops at all. That again emphasises the complexity of

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this task and why, for all hts imperfections, the best outcome

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would be if the UN can secure access, agreed by the regimd for

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either overland or failing that are airborne assistance.

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What material support is thd United Kingdom giving at the moment to the

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United Nations, improper aeration for, as we hope, access being

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granted? -- in that preparation As my honourable friend knows we

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committed very large sums, ?2.3 million of humanitarian aid

:12:53.:12:55.

assistance to help the crishs in Syria and its neighbouring

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countries. We are ready to provide additional support, if the TN wants

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that from us, for an expanddd airdrop operation to the besieged

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areas. Mr Speaker, the homely -- the holy

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month of Ramadan began on Monday, as the Minister knows. There are

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millions of Syrian refugees in the countries immediately adjoining

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Syria. Could he confirm that our humanitarian efforts are continuing

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so that these people are helped where they are, rather than having

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to make the perilous journex to the Greek and Turkish border? I agree

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with the right honourable gdntleman about the importance of this. After

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all, the reason why large ntmbers of people moved from the camps across

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the Aegean last summer was that the UN was not getting them sufficient

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funds to maintain food rations or hours of schooling at the previously

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agreed levels. We are certahnly committed and we also are pressing

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all countries and international organisations who committed

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themselves to spend more at the recent London conference on Syria to

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deliver fully and promptly on those pledges. I would also say in respect

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of Ramadan, we welcome the opposition's high negotiation

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committee that there should be a Ramadan trees inside Syria. We hope

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this might be an opportunitx to stop further bloodshed. It's depressing

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to against the starvation bding used as a weapon of war, particularly

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when one man, President Puthn, could make one phone call to his friend

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President Assad to remove m`ny other barriers to international ahd.

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Assuming that we get the abhlity to deliver international aid, have we

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offered use of British military bases to allow that deliverx to

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quickly take place, in parthcular from Cyprus? We have not bedn asked

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to provide that kind of asshstance to the United Nations. Obviously any

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request that we might get from the United Nations we would consider

:15:20.:15:23.

seriously and sympathetically but my understanding is that the UN's

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preference would be to use civilian airports because I think th`t would

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emphasise to all parties thd humanitarian rather than political

:15:35.:15:41.

nature of the flights. Bash`r al-Assad's father-in-law lives in

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London. He is a retired doctor. In the past he used to boast, `nd

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boasted to me, that he has considerable influence over his

:15:55.:15:59.

son-in-law. Now I wonder if anybody in the Foreign Office has actually

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met with Bashar al-Assad's father-in-law, because that might be

:16:04.:16:06.

one additional approach that we could try? I don't know whether

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there has been a recent conversation with Assad's father-in-law but I

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will make sure that that pohnt is noted in the Foreign Office and

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perhaps write to the honour`ble lady. Mr Speaker, the UN sahd on

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Thursday that helicopters would have to be used for a bridge is for 5 of

:16:31.:16:36.

the 19 besieged areas because they are densely populated. In rdality,

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the UN working with the world food programme would use helicopters

:16:41.:16:44.

which need permission to land. Does my honourable friend agree with me

:16:45.:16:47.

that we use these diplomatic channels to urge Russia to `sk and

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insist that Syria does open up these channels? I agree wholeheartedly

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with what my honourable fridnd has said and I think that this hs a

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really important test of Russia s professed commitment, both to the

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United Nations and its humanitarian aid work and to its professdd

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commitment to a political solution in Syria? If Assad and Russha's

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shameful blocking of aid by air and land continues, will be Govdrnment

:17:31.:17:35.

redouble our effort to ensure that Assad is eventually bought to -

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brought to justice to face crimes against humanity? I think the first

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thing must be to secure alp for those who are in desperate need and

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then we need to achieve a political settlement in Syria. When wd have

:17:54.:17:57.

that in place, I think therd will indeed need to be a time whdn

:17:58.:18:02.

individuals who are responshble for the most appalling crimes c`n be

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held to account. The point hs that my right honourable friend lakes a

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very important. I am very pleased that I am agreeing with everything

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he says, not something that I usually do of late when he's at the

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dispatch box. But would he join me in praising the work of our former

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colleague Stephen O'Brien who is now the United Nations emergencx relief

:18:25.:18:31.

coordinator of this area? I am very happy to do so. He was a good friend

:18:32.:18:35.

of mine when he was a member of this House and he had, while he served

:18:36.:18:39.

it, a very sincere enduring commitment to because of

:18:40.:18:44.

international do well and and humanitarian assistance and he is

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showing real dynamism and ldadership in his work, half of the UN now The

:18:52.:18:58.

opposition is right to raisd the humanitarian nightmare of this

:18:59.:19:01.

situation but is the Governlent absolutely right to proceed with the

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greatest caution in a situation with holy unpredictable consequences and

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particularly in rejecting -, rejected a facile solutions of

:19:13.:19:16.

military interventions even when they operate by a past by Mhnister

:19:17.:19:22.

with a record of shooting fhrst and thinking later? I think in terms of

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the leading question that h`s been asked today, the key objecthve must

:19:29.:19:33.

surely be to find the means by which we can get humanitarian aid to those

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who need it as quickly and `s effectively as can possibly be

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achieved. I hope we can all agree on that point. The question has already

:19:44.:19:49.

been raised with respect to what Russia can do. Can the Minister give

:19:50.:19:54.

us any examples of what Russia may have done so far that would give us

:19:55.:19:57.

any positive news that the Russians may be about to change their

:19:58.:20:04.

approach? I'd like to be able to be more encouraging in my response but

:20:05.:20:13.

the Russian approach so far has been, frankly, disappointing. We

:20:14.:20:16.

have seen access allowed to the United Nations to help people who

:20:17.:20:25.

are being besieged by Daesh forces, but the people there are people who

:20:26.:20:29.

are loyal to the Assad regile and so the Russians and the regime have

:20:30.:20:33.

been happy to allow that humanitarian assistance. It is a

:20:34.:20:37.

real test now of Russia's intentions as to whether they are going to

:20:38.:20:41.

bring the pressure to bear that they could bring to bear on Assad to act

:20:42.:20:48.

before those people suffer further. The Minister has confessed that

:20:49.:20:51.

children are dying for want of food and medicine. Could we concdntrate

:20:52.:20:56.

on yes, the Prime Minister of the alighted nations -- the Minnesota --

:20:57.:21:01.

the primacy of the United N`tions's role but also the wonderful people

:21:02.:21:07.

at Medecins Sans Frontieres who have wonderful expertise in this area. Is

:21:08.:21:18.

he consulting with them regtlarly? We are in regular contact whth those

:21:19.:21:22.

organisations, as indeed thd United Nations, which has long-standing

:21:23.:21:26.

relationships with all the international NGOs. As the

:21:27.:21:30.

honourable gentleman will know, a large proportion of the British

:21:31.:21:36.

Government's eight assistance to humanitarian causes in Syri` and the

:21:37.:21:42.

surrounding areas is channelled reorganisation T has listed. The

:21:43.:21:46.

text complexity that the Minister has referred to and the UN dfforts

:21:47.:21:52.

currently are certainly unddrstood by Syrian refugees who I met in my

:21:53.:21:58.

own constituency, who explahned their dire plight to me, but my

:21:59.:22:06.

question is why can we not resolved to supply the means of life whenever

:22:07.:22:11.

we have shown that we can stpply the means of death? One has to take into

:22:12.:22:21.

account the military situathon on the ground. We are talking `bout the

:22:22.:22:27.

regime in Syria that is besheging most of those communities whose

:22:28.:22:30.

plight we are discussing. The regime has available to it able miserable

:22:31.:22:40.

Ed event of its own -- formhdable air defences of its own and Russia

:22:41.:22:44.

has also deployed air defences inside Syrian territory. It is for

:22:45.:22:50.

that reason that we believe the safest and most effective mdans of

:22:51.:22:53.

providing humanitarian access would still be for the UN to agred terms

:22:54.:22:59.

through which that aid can be delivered. If that proves not to be

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working, we are going to have to return to this issue, as I have

:23:07.:23:11.

already indicated. Deakin dhsh and is on the ground are clearlx very

:23:12.:23:16.

challenging -- the conditions on the ground are clearly very challenging

:23:17.:23:21.

and are often in very built,up, urban areas where there is no

:23:22.:23:26.

suitable space for a drop zone and obviously high altitude drops where

:23:27.:23:29.

it could possibly harm the people on the ground. Will the Ministdr

:23:30.:23:36.

continued to press for access to aid to be delivered by truck convoy and

:23:37.:23:42.

Kalak opted to people who are besieged? We shall and I will be

:23:43.:23:47.

continuing that in Geneva this afternoon. According to the UN, some

:23:48.:23:54.

600,000 people are in danger of starvation. The Syrian Government

:23:55.:23:58.

say there is no need for adtlts because there is no starvathon, so

:23:59.:24:01.

clearly we have a different of opinion and we need the support of

:24:02.:24:05.

the Syrians and Russians because we in Britain proud -- pride otrselves

:24:06.:24:12.

on helping others here and `broad. If we can't secure the land access

:24:13.:24:17.

and the only way is by air, is it the garment's intention to support

:24:18.:24:21.

the UN in pushing ahead with this to ensure there isn't a humanitarian

:24:22.:24:27.

crisis and people aren't st`rving? It was my right honourable friend

:24:28.:24:32.

who pressed at the previous meeting for air drops to be continudd -

:24:33.:24:37.

considered as a last resort and if we can't secure the access for the

:24:38.:24:43.

UN that we -- they are seekhng and we are supporting in trying to

:24:44.:24:46.

achieve, we will have to return to that possibility.

:24:47.:24:51.

Live coverage of the announcement of Commons business for the week ahead and questions to Leader of the Commons.


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