The Battle for Aleppo Newsnight


The Battle for Aleppo

Syria special, with James O'Brien. With Aleppo on the brink, we ask what is happening on the ground? Has Assad won, is there a new global order, and could it have been stopped?


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After years of war, are we finally seeing the endgame in Syria?

:00:10.:00:24.

I trusted them 100 metres, not more. Anyone they see, they would shoot

:00:25.:00:29.

him immediately. With a ceasefire now

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apparently in place, we're devoting the whole

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of tonight's Newsnight to Syria. Is Assad now on the brink of victory

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in the Syrian civil war? Is the international

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order being reshaped, And could anything have

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been done to stop this? Are you truly incapable of shame? Is

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there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of

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barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under

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your skin? That creeps you add a little bit?

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Strong words from the Americans, but is it too late for Aleppo?

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We'll attempt to answer these questions with the help of experts,

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politicians, and witnesses on the ground.

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The House of Commons heard today that doctors in improvised clinics

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in the Syrian city of Aleppo are wearing boots because there

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Their surviving patients are, in many ways, the lucky ones.

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According to the United Nations, pro-Government forces in the East

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of the city have been killing civilians, among them

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women and children, in their homes and on the streets.

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Streets which the UN's Human Rights office described

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The rebels, who have held the East of the city for four years,

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Tonight, as Russian's UN ambassador said a ceasefire was in place

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and a deal allowing them to leave the city would be enacted

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within hours, we ask whether that defeat would signal

:02:27.:02:28.

of the Syrian civil war and deliver victory to the Russian

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and Iranian-backed President Bashar Al-Assad.

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And does Vladimir Putin's crucial role signal a further

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crystallisation of lasting change to the established world order?

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We will also consider whether the West, most obviously

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the UK and Barack Obama's America, could have - even should have -

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done more to staunch the flow of civilian blood.

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Before social media, a besieged city would trap not just

:02:54.:02:55.

Now, as pro-government forces advance on Eastern Aleppo,

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horror stories seep out like blood under a locked door.

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To everyone who can hear me, we are here exposed to a genocide

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More than 50,000 civilians who rebelled against the dictator

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Al Assad are threatened with field executions or dying under bombing.

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These people, shown on Syrian television, appear able to escape.

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However, not everyone encircled by pro-government forces feels it's

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We are close to them, maybe 300 metres, not more.

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They capture any neighbourhood, first thing they do,

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They entered this building, anyone they see, anyone they see,

:04:20.:04:27.

Anyone they see they will shoot them, immediately.

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We cannot of course independently verify any of this, but the physical

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Aleppo's medieval fortifications blown apart by modern war.

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The UN is convinced that what is happening here is - quote -

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The reports we've had are both being shot in the street or trying

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Obviously people are being killed by the incredibly intense

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So we've also had reports that, you know, bodies lying

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in the streets and people unable to pick up those

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Because of the intensity of the bombardment and the fear,

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This is the image that the Syrian government wants the world to see,

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grateful residents returning to a liberated city.

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We don't know how many people, though, are left

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As the remaining rebel fighters are squeezed into a smaller

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and smaller footprint, so the suffering of the civilians

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The civilians are stuck in a very small area that doesn't exceed

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Tonight at the UN, Russia - which supports the Syrian government

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The counterterrorism operation in Aleppo,

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announced Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, will conclude in the next few hours.

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The battle for Aleppo, four years of grinding,

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bloody conflict, looks like it might be about to end, in victory

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for the Assad government and their Russian backers.

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David Crossman reporting on the events of today. Time to turn our

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attention to tonight. Our chief international

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correspondent Lyse Doucet has been Lyse, no shortage of contradiction

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or confusion, what can we say of the latest developments with confidence?

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We can say with confidence that the rebellion in east Aleppo is over, a

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rebellion which began in July 2012 and which at one point in the years

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that followed seemed at the point of capturing all Aleppo to the point

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that a pro-government command of militia told me last week that in

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Aleppo they had been reduced to only three streets. What a turnaround for

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the Syrian army and its allies, most importantly Russia, and an array of

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militias backed by Iran, it is a huge victory, the most significant

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of the war, for the Syrian government, for President Bashir

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al-Assad. But the future of Aleppo, a city divided, shredded, where

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kilometre after kilometre, new you drive to the east

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of the city, or that there are streets drained of life and colour,

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haunted by the memories of what has gone on in the past four years. What

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we do know is that tomorrow morning, if it is on time, the fighters and

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their family will leave the battlefields of Aleppo, leave their

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dreams and defiance behind and go to the city of Idlib in the West and

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the stunner opposition control or go north to fight another day in the

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area controlled by Turkish fighters and Turkish troops. Lyse Doucet,

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thank you. Lord Ashdown was the UN

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High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the aftermath

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of their civil war. First, Bashar Farahat fled to Syria

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in 2013 and arrived in the UK Bashar, it is harrowing enough to

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see such pictures from a country one has never visited. What is it like

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to see such pictures from one's home? We are used to watching these

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pictures, and fortunately, this ongoing massacre for six years, it

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is sometimes getting to the point where it hits the top news. It has

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been the same since 2011, the killing of our people every single

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day. The Assad regime killing them. Aleppo is my city and I spent quite

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a lot of time in Aleppo and it is a disaster. We expected Aleppo, the

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resistance to fall down and to end but we always expected that it might

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be the same as what happened in a different areas of Syria, at least

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keeping a safe passage for civilians to survive, and what is going on now

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is a massacre and they are not giving any opportunity for these

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people to survive. Have you been in touch with the people in the city

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recently? Yes, I have many friends there and colleagues who used to

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work in the hospital there, trying to help people, and hospitals of

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course have been targeted for a long time, so there are no working

:10:04.:10:10.

hospitals for two or three weeks. Today I could be in touch with a

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colleague who is a medical doctor there. And he just could say that he

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is still alive. And all our colleagues and friends are sending

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their very last messages knowing that they will die at any moment.

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They expect to die at the hands of government forces? Yes. After

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hearing of filmed executions, killing people who fled to resume

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areas, no one wants to experience that, to be detained, tortured, or

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killed by militias, they preferred to die where they belong, to die in

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their homes and their hospitals with their loved ones. There is no

:10:54.:10:59.

optimism, for want of a better word, to be derived from this apparent

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ceasefire announced tonight? We hope so. I think there is always

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optimism, we are speaking about ours and every single hour hundreds of

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people are being killed, but if I speak of 50,000 people trapped in

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two or three square kilometres, every bomb could cause a massacre,

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so the optimism of a ceasefire tomorrow might cause 20,000, 30,000,

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we don't know commit huge numbers, the civil defence yesterday could

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not count the number of people killed, the bodies on the streets.

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They could not count them. So are speaking about tens of people being

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killed every single hour. Bashar Farahat, many thanks indeed for your

:11:48.:11:52.

time. Paddy Ashdown, it is stating the obvious to say that some people

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watching will feel some desperate need to do something. Is there

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anything that we could have done or could do now? James, listening to

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Bashar, it is impossible to find words, you ask what is going on in

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the ground, the answer is that it is an trained, you ask if this is the

:12:19.:12:22.

end for Aleppo, it is although it must not be the end for the people

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dropped inside, every bomb is a massacre, Bashar says that is the

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risk. The West, I'm afraid, in these last five years has deliberately,

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almost thoughtfully, manoeuvred itself into the position where it is

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now an impotent bystander. It has no leverage. It has leverage to do one

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thing now. List must be the first priority of the Western effort.

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Those 50,000 people. There must not be another subunits. But Bosnia. I

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was there when it happened and there is nothing of that matters in the

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next 36 hours than those 50,000 people trapped in four square miles,

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we have to get them out and get them to safety. Beyond that, there are

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things that the West can do. I would like to come back to the 50,000

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civilians in need of rescue, as you say. Do you have faith that the

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ceasefire will hold? Surely regardless of your answer we can

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only do what the Russians would let us do? I don't have faith but there

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are things we can do, send in a UN mission, I found it difficult to

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believe that the Russians would not permit that. Why hasn't it happened

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already? A very good question. All sorts of reasons. I go back to that

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vote in 2013 when our parliament refused to act in the face of Bashir

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al-Assad using chemical weapons. I said at the time it was the most

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shameful vote I'd ever participated in an parliament and it was true and

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now there's a price to be paid for that. The West has lost any potency

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in terms of what it might do, Russia has taken advantage of that and

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moved into the vacuum, thousands of people have been killed. My bleak

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guess, what can the West do now apart from trying to save those

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50,000, the answer is, bluntly, not much. It does not have much leverage

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on the ground. Moving away from that... Let me tell you what might

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happen. Ceasefires don't work until both sides believe they have nothing

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further to gain on the battlefield. My guess is that Assad and the

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Russians decided that they were not in that position. They had to take

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Aleppo before there could be a ceasefire. Russia does not want to

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be involved in this in the long term, I think. They don't want to

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get bogged down, I suspect both sides have reached a position where

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everything they can gain on the battlefield has been more or less

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gained, Aleppo is theirs and the conditions are there for some kind

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of peace. Let me warn you it will be rough, bloody, untidy, dominated by

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warlords, Bosnia on a large scale. The right thing now is to have

:15:08.:15:10.

original agreement way you assert the integrity of the political space

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of Syria as unassailable. That involves the neighbours, Iran,

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Turkey, underpinned as guarantors by the great powers, that could bring

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some kind of peace, it will be horrible to observe but I can

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promise you that every citizen living in Aleppo, trapped between

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the bombs of asset and the knives of Isis will prefer peace, however

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untidy, to war, I saw it in Sarajevo, it's the same conditions.

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Lord Ashton, thanks. Bush Lord Ashdown, thanks.

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After a stint as an army doctor, Bashar al-Assad was doing

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postgraduate studies at the Western Eye Hospital

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in London when he was recalled to Damascus in 1994 after his

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brother - and heir apparent to the Syrian Presidency -

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Six years later, he succeeded his father to the Presidency

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and when ripples from the Arab Spring unfolding

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across much of the Middle East reached Syria in early 2011,

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his uncompromising response to pro-democracy protesters

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effectively constituted the opening shots of what would become

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A war he now seems vanishingly close to winning.

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It didn't always seem such a sure thing.

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Months into the conflict, the UN condemns human rights

:16:28.:16:30.

violations in Syria with US and EU demands that Assad stands down.

:16:31.:16:35.

An attempt by the UN Security Council to pass

:16:36.:16:37.

a resolution condemning the regime fails after Russia

:16:38.:16:40.

An early peace plan devised by the Arab League also fails.

:16:41.:16:51.

Amid continuing international condemnation of the regime,

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President Obama threatens intervention if there's any use

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A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons

:16:58.:17:06.

By the end of the year, a series of countries including the US,

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Britain and some Gulf states formally recognise the opposition

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National Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

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In August, a chemical assault on a Damascus

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The US blames Asad, despite denials by Damascus,

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President Obama says he is resolved to take military action but will

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In the UK, Parliament defeats proposals by Prime Minister

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David Cameron to take action against Assad.

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By the end of the year more than two million refugees have fled

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to neighbouring countries and more than 100,000 are dead.

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Attempts at peace talks in Geneva come to nothing.

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And a report by Human Rights Watch concludes that Assad has used

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The report suggests Syrian forces dropped by bombs containing

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By the end of the year forces from the US and five Arab countries

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are carrying out air strikes against IS.

:18:25.:18:29.

A game changer, Russia gets involved and carries out

:18:30.:18:31.

air strikes in Syria, targeting IS in September.

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However the West and the Syrian opposition claim the attacks

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overwhelmingly target anti-Asad rebels.

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After another vote, the UK joins bombing raids against IS in December

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A US-Russian brokered partial ceasefire was concluded

:18:54.:18:55.

And now, here we are, with Assad and Russian forces

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finally seizing Aleppo's rebel held areas.

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We tried to speak to representatives of the Russian and Syrian

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governments but no one wanted to talk.

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Our Middle East Editor is Jeremy Bowen and joining us

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from New York is Reza Afshar, who is a diplomatic advisor

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to the Syrian Opposition and former head of Syria policy at the Foreign

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The picture painted by Paddy Ashdown was bleak, do you think that Assad

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will feel like a winner tonight? He will, at the beginning of the war

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there were even reports he had taken refuge on a Russian battleship in

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the Mediterranean so to go to this is huge, his biggest victory of the

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war but I would say not the end of the war. The war is changing its

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shape and perhaps they have now got to a point where they have fought

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each other to a standstill, and let's not forget Islamic State still

:20:14.:20:18.

hold their corner of Syria. They have actually retaken parts of the

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mirror in the last few days under the curtain of everything that has

:20:25.:20:29.

been going on in Aleppo and the Rebels themselves hold quite a bit

:20:30.:20:32.

of territory. So while a lot of foreign powers are still very

:20:33.:20:37.

involved in what is happening in Syria, it has become almost like a

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miniature world war, it is therefore more difficult to try to bring a

:20:43.:20:49.

diplomatic solution to all of this. And we saw today in the Security

:20:50.:20:54.

Council tremendous acrimony between all the sides, they will have to

:20:55.:20:56.

agree something to get them altogether. And the era of Assad,

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would you accept that? I think the Russians have the ear of Assad. If

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you go to the offices of generals in Damascus, they're full of textbooks

:21:16.:21:22.

in Russian about military tactics and commemorative shields from units

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they visited in Russia, the kind of thing that senior officers give each

:21:27.:21:32.

other. They really are that tight. So as a result, not only does tend

:21:33.:21:36.

to have the era of President Putin and the other way round, the

:21:37.:21:40.

Russians know who was further down the chain as well when it comes to

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Syria. The West, their problem has been a lot more ignorance relatively

:21:45.:21:48.

speaking with what has been happening and of course the Russians

:21:49.:21:54.

have had this remarkable, a lot of clarity in their policy. They knew

:21:55.:21:58.

what they wanted, to support their man, Assad, but the West in

:21:59.:22:04.

comparison has been all over the place. The western side has shown

:22:05.:22:10.

the complexity of the issue and been a bit befuddled about what to do

:22:11.:22:19.

next. The consensus seems to be that while things may not be quite over

:22:20.:22:22.

yet, perhaps it is the beginning of the end. Would you agree with that?

:22:23.:22:31.

I would wholeheartedly disagree. The fact that Aleppo is on the brink of

:22:32.:22:37.

being taken and Assad feels he is winning does not mean that he is

:22:38.:22:42.

winning. He has to take and hold ground, he does not have the

:22:43.:22:46.

military capability to hold ground. And we have seen what happens when

:22:47.:22:50.

forces are focused in one place like Aleppo, other places get taken and

:22:51.:22:54.

retaken and the moderate rebel groups who in fact were fighting IS

:22:55.:22:59.

also have to focus their efforts on the regime, killing people on a

:23:00.:23:05.

day-to-day basis. Because only they are in a position to protect the

:23:06.:23:10.

civilian population. So we are getting a continual opening up of

:23:11.:23:15.

fronts all over the country. And I would take issue with something

:23:16.:23:19.

Paddy Ashdown said earlier, the idea that the West has no leveraged to

:23:20.:23:24.

deal with the issue is simply wrong. You create that leveraged by

:23:25.:23:28.

creating consequences for the actions that the Syrian government

:23:29.:23:32.

and Russians are taking. If you fire a cruise missile from a ship onto

:23:33.:23:37.

the end of the Syrian runway I think that behaviour would change quite

:23:38.:23:42.

quickly. The Obama administration could have done that at any point in

:23:43.:23:46.

the conflict and has chosen not to. You say at any point but up until

:23:47.:23:51.

the point the Russians got involved surely because to fire a cruise

:23:52.:23:58.

missile at the Syrian runway being used by Russian planes would be an

:23:59.:24:02.

act of confrontation. Not at all, with the amount of Assads in the

:24:03.:24:11.

region, with some clarity we could see which targets have that risk of

:24:12.:24:16.

hitting Russians and which do not. At the end of the day the Russians

:24:17.:24:22.

do not respond to negotiation, they respond to a stepping up of military

:24:23.:24:26.

action. And the Obama administration has failed to do that and I think in

:24:27.:24:32.

the Security Council it was said today that the Russians should be

:24:33.:24:37.

ashamed. They ought to be but also the Americans have to answer why

:24:38.:24:40.

they did not take action to protect civilians in Syria. Do you think

:24:41.:24:45.

that is likely to happen because they talked about a red line with

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the deployment of chemical weaponry, Barack Obama famously said that line

:24:51.:24:54.

could not be crossed but they did and nothing happened. What has

:24:55.:25:02.

changed now? I'm not optimistic, I do not think this president will do

:25:03.:25:06.

anything in that regard. But the point is that there are tools that

:25:07.:25:09.

can be used to bring the conflict to an end and when Paddy Ashdown talks

:25:10.:25:16.

about a process like Bosnia, I agree, there needs to be some kind

:25:17.:25:22.

of negotiation. But what brought the Serbs to the table was when Nato

:25:23.:25:25.

started to bomb them. At the end of the data has to be chorus of element

:25:26.:25:30.

to policy in Syria and that is completely missing. That is why

:25:31.:25:34.

people are suffering and why we face a daily terror threat in Europe and

:25:35.:25:40.

the US, why there is a refugee exodus tearing apart the fabric of

:25:41.:25:43.

Europe. Syria touches everyone of us in terms of the consequences it has.

:25:44.:25:49.

And it is in the US self-interest and European self-interest to take

:25:50.:25:54.

action to reduce the impact of this conflict. And they have the means to

:25:55.:25:55.

do it. Thank you very much. When Barack Obama elected not

:25:56.:26:01.

to intervene in what he saw as another Muslim civil war

:26:02.:26:04.

in the Middle East, the then Saudi ambassador to Washington,

:26:05.:26:06.

Adel al-Jubeir, reported back to Riyadh that "Iran

:26:07.:26:09.

is the new great power of the Middle East,

:26:10.:26:13.

and the US is the old." Talk of a new world

:26:14.:26:16.

order traditionally seems a little over the top but if 2016 has taught

:26:17.:26:19.

us anything, it is that what once seemed fanciful can

:26:20.:26:22.

quickly become reality. Factor in also that Russia, Iran's

:26:23.:26:27.

co-sponsor of the Assad regime, subsequently came to play a massive

:26:28.:26:32.

part in the suppression of the rebellion, and you are left

:26:33.:26:36.

with a very real sense of a seismic shift in the power structures

:26:37.:26:40.

of the region and so the world. We asked the historian

:26:41.:26:45.

Timothy Garton Ash to give us his assessment of where the world

:26:46.:26:47.

stands as 2016 draws to a close. I think Vladimir Putin

:26:48.:27:03.

will have a very happy Christmas. In fact, he's been known to croon,

:27:04.:27:07.

and I think he may be crooning In Syria he has relentlessly

:27:08.:27:10.

and successfully prosecuted a war at the side of the Assad regime

:27:11.:27:19.

with cynical indifference to massive civilian casualties and suffering,

:27:20.:27:23.

and he's almost won. In the United States,

:27:24.:27:26.

Russian hackers have contributed directly to the defeat of Hillary

:27:27.:27:30.

Clinton. So Putin has now got the most

:27:31.:27:34.

Russia-friendly president he could possibly

:27:35.:27:36.

hope for, in Trump. And now a new Secretary of State,

:27:37.:27:40.

Rex Tillerson, who is an oilman, a buddy of his, who actually opposed

:27:41.:27:43.

sanctions over Crimea. In Europe, Putin can contemplate

:27:44.:27:49.

with delight the rise of populists in every corner and the partial

:27:50.:27:53.

disintegration of I've just come back from Paris,

:27:54.:27:58.

where he has an amazing prospect in the second

:27:59.:28:06.

round of the presidential election, Marine Le Pen of the National Front

:28:07.:28:09.

versus Francois Fillon, the one almost as

:28:10.:28:14.

pro-Putin as the other. And now in Germany they are talking

:28:15.:28:19.

about the danger of Russian hackers again influencing

:28:20.:28:22.

the election results. I think that's been a great

:28:23.:28:25.

year for Vladimir Putin. So some would say,

:28:26.:28:34.

is it a new world order? I would say, if you mean

:28:35.:28:37.

by a new world order an old world disorder,

:28:38.:28:42.

then at the moment, yes. We're back to a world where great

:28:43.:28:47.

powers are relentlessly pursuing their national and imperial

:28:48.:28:50.

interests, also by the use I think one of the lessons of modern

:28:51.:28:53.

history is that dictatorships tend to win in the short-term,

:28:54.:29:04.

but democracies win Sir Anthony Brenton

:29:05.:29:06.

was British Ambassador to Russia. Everyone tonight seems to agree that

:29:07.:29:31.

Vladimir Putin emerges from this unholy mess greatly enhanced. I

:29:32.:29:38.

think that is right. The Russians have gone into Syria was a much

:29:39.:29:42.

clearer view of what they wanted than we did. What did they want?

:29:43.:29:49.

They had a problem of their own at home, they saw the choice in Syria

:29:50.:29:55.

as being between Assad, who believe they do not like, and the

:29:56.:30:00.

alternative is being extremist Islam taking over. And while extremist

:30:01.:30:06.

Islam is a threat to Russia, really Assad is not so they firmly put

:30:07.:30:11.

their money on Assad. And they have vigorously supported him through to

:30:12.:30:17.

the situation we're in now. Much of the covers suggests they have

:30:18.:30:19.

dedicated more attention to what we could describe as a moderate rebel

:30:20.:30:25.

-- rebel groups than the actual jihadists or Islamist. I think their

:30:26.:30:30.

view is that the backbone of the opposition are in fact the

:30:31.:30:36.

Islamists. So therefore western politicians to say we are backing

:30:37.:30:39.

the good guys but the core of the opposition and this is pretty clear,

:30:40.:30:46.

were Islamists. If they're one, even the nice moderate faces put in

:30:47.:30:52.

charge, this Islamists would rapidly have over. --.

:30:53.:31:00.

So David Cameron was wrong to talk about moderate leaders that we could

:31:01.:31:11.

deal with? History was against him, remember the CIA training exercise,

:31:12.:31:15.

at the time that David Cameron said that, which was designed to produce

:31:16.:31:20.

moderate soldiers and produced about ten because they all defected to the

:31:21.:31:25.

extremists when they had trained. So Barack Obama was probably right not

:31:26.:31:29.

to get involved because if he had done he would not have been able to

:31:30.:31:34.

pick a side. That's right. We made a huge mistake at the beginning by

:31:35.:31:40.

saying Assad must go. It then became apparent... What would you have

:31:41.:31:53.

done? I started my career as an Arabist and I have seen the region

:31:54.:31:56.

getting worse and worse and I have seen Western interventions on the

:31:57.:31:58.

whole making it worse rather than better. I was heavily involved in

:31:59.:32:01.

the Iraq exercise, I watched President Mubarak leaving in Egypt

:32:02.:32:03.

and in each case it has left the situation worse than before. I am

:32:04.:32:08.

afraid that this is a region that finally house to solve its own

:32:09.:32:13.

problems. There's always talk about atrocities, some appalling but in

:32:14.:32:16.

the absence of any clear ability on the part of the West to improve the

:32:17.:32:22.

situation rather than damage it, we should be very careful about getting

:32:23.:32:27.

involved at all. In a slightly different direction, reports that

:32:28.:32:32.

Russia may have interfered in the election of Donald Trump, with your

:32:33.:32:36.

background which you have described how important may that story proved

:32:37.:32:41.

to be? I think it will go away but it is pretty clear that the Russians

:32:42.:32:46.

did the hacking. It is not clear why they did it. I am not entirely

:32:47.:32:50.

persuaded that they backed Trump because at the time everyone

:32:51.:32:53.

expected Hillary Clinton to win and they would not set themselves up

:32:54.:32:58.

against a winner. It is a sign of a new technological means for Russia

:32:59.:33:03.

to interfere in our processes and we must equip ourselves for that. Sir

:33:04.:33:07.

Anthony Brenton, thank you very much.

:33:08.:33:10.

British politicians remain fiercely divided over

:33:11.:33:11.

the question of what, if anything, they could

:33:12.:33:13.

David Cameron's actions are seen as one of the reasons behind Barack

:33:14.:33:30.

Obama's decision not to intervene. Perhaps the best illustration of how

:33:31.:33:33.

confusing it was happened two years later when parliament voted in

:33:34.:33:37.

favour of air strikes on Syria, then the parts of course occupied by ice,

:33:38.:33:43.

themselves opponents of the Assad regime.

:33:44.:33:45.

The former Chancellor, George Osborne, told the Commons today

:33:46.:33:47.

that the tragedy was born of a "vacuum of Western leadership"

:33:48.:33:50.

and accused Parliament of having "prevented" action by voting

:33:51.:34:00.

against military intervention against the Assad regime in 2013.

:34:01.:34:02.

The tragedy in Aleppo did not come out of a vacuum.

:34:03.:34:05.

It was created by a vacuum, a vacuum of Western

:34:06.:34:07.

Of American leadership, British leadership.

:34:08.:34:09.

I take responsibility as someone who sat on the National Security Council

:34:10.:34:12.

Parliament should take its responsibility

:34:13.:34:14.

because of what it prevented being done.

:34:15.:34:16.

And there were multiple opportunities to intervene.

:34:17.:34:22.

I'm joined now by the Labour MP for Wirral South, Alison McGovern,

:34:23.:34:25.

and the Times columnist, Matthew Parris.

:34:26.:34:27.

Matthew, I will begin with you, if I may, it seems that in the world of

:34:28.:34:34.

politics and journalism there seems great compunction to pick a side,

:34:35.:34:39.

should we have picked a side sooner and more clearly? I think we picked

:34:40.:34:43.

the wrong side. I do not think we were in any position to know who the

:34:44.:34:47.

rebels were and what form of government they might be able to

:34:48.:34:51.

establish, or how we would underpin that government. I am far from

:34:52.:34:57.

saying that we should have supported Assad but I am not sure we should

:34:58.:35:02.

have opposed him. I think we should have stood back. As it turns out

:35:03.:35:08.

Assad had won. As it turns out he was in a much stronger position than

:35:09.:35:11.

diplomats, our ambassador said that he would fall within weeks and our

:35:12.:35:17.

security and intelligence advisers advised us. I think it is a mistake.

:35:18.:35:21.

I heard George Osborne saying that there were many into opportunities

:35:22.:35:27.

to intervene, there are but you must know what you are going to do when

:35:28.:35:31.

you intervene and I don't think we had a clear view of who the rebels

:35:32.:35:35.

were, which rebels we wanted to win, what sort of government they could

:35:36.:35:39.

form or whether the West could underpin that government. So we did

:35:40.:35:42.

not make the mistake that we made in Libya by toppling Gadhafi without

:35:43.:35:50.

knowing what would follow. Alison McGovern, the question of what we

:35:51.:35:54.

should do now, what the House of Commons contended with today, it

:35:55.:35:58.

might have been nicer to see a few more people sitting on the benches,

:35:59.:36:04.

is it a priority for British politicians, for Theresa May's

:36:05.:36:08.

government? I want to make it one because I think the kind of events

:36:09.:36:14.

have seen in Aleppo over the last 24 hours and over months and months are

:36:15.:36:19.

an offence to basic humanity. I think all of us look at that and

:36:20.:36:25.

think, it is easy to have a counsel of despair and say that there is

:36:26.:36:29.

nothing we can do but we do have tools at our disposal. And rather

:36:30.:36:33.

than seeing this as picking sides, ten years ago we all stood up and

:36:34.:36:37.

said broadly people in the international community think there

:36:38.:36:42.

is a responsibility to protect civilians and it is not about one

:36:43.:36:46.

tactic that can make this happen, it is about a range of things we can

:36:47.:36:51.

do, whether it is sanctions, diplomacy, judicious use of credible

:36:52.:36:55.

force to shift the balance of power... Whatever that strategy is,

:36:56.:37:00.

that is the way that the world should lead, to say that this is not

:37:01.:37:04.

acceptable. And all people were asking for in the House of Commons

:37:05.:37:07.

today was for the Foreign Secretary to bring forward such a strategy to

:37:08.:37:12.

protect civilians and there is a perfect opportunity at the end of

:37:13.:37:15.

this week with the European Council of the Prime Minister still at this

:37:16.:37:20.

late stage to show leadership and say, the international community

:37:21.:37:22.

believes there are certain things that are not right and this is what

:37:23.:37:25.

we will do to uphold those valleys and offers civilians, people who are

:37:26.:37:33.

not combatants, innocent victims- Mac those values, and in French and

:37:34.:37:39.

get them to safety. Russian involvement permitting. Three years

:37:40.:37:43.

ago, your party worked against intervention and you presumably

:37:44.:37:47.

voted against. George Osborne effectively suggested today that you

:37:48.:37:53.

have blood on your hands. First, the Russians have previously signed up,

:37:54.:37:57.

we are only asking them to do what they said already. And I said in the

:37:58.:38:03.

House of Commons... George Osborne implied that people like you were

:38:04.:38:08.

responsible for it. I think he and I agreed in the House that all of our

:38:09.:38:11.

with our votes come in 2013... Do you accept his analysis and

:38:12.:38:28.

regret the way that your party whip and its members? It is not a trick

:38:29.:38:31.

question. I know, let me explain. When the Prime Minister responded to

:38:32.:38:34.

that vote and said words to the effect of, I get that, what I regret

:38:35.:38:37.

is that we left it there. Whether or not we were right at that moment,

:38:38.:38:39.

whether or not the government had proved the case, to be honest with

:38:40.:38:42.

you, I think you can argue it either way. I regret in my own actions not

:38:43.:38:50.

challenging them all, not bringing it forward more, but in the end,

:38:51.:38:54.

David Cameron was the Prime Minister and George Osborne was the

:38:55.:38:59.

Chancellor, and as he and I agreed today, we all must take our share of

:39:00.:39:04.

responsibility. Yet even at this late stage I still think we should

:39:05.:39:08.

be pushing for Britain to take a lead along with our international

:39:09.:39:12.

partners, and do something. I understand. Matthew, one phrase that

:39:13.:39:16.

resonated, from Crispin Blunt, the chair of the foreign select

:39:17.:39:21.

committee, he spoke about being relieved of our imperial intentions,

:39:22.:39:26.

as he suggested, it was not our fight to get involved in. "Ought". I

:39:27.:39:35.

agree with Alison entirely, this implies "Can" and there is a limit

:39:36.:39:38.

to what we can do. I think there was an understanding and there still is

:39:39.:39:43.

a limit to what we could do. It is probably necessary now that somebody

:39:44.:39:47.

wins in Aleppo. It cannot carry on like this. Perhaps we can do

:39:48.:39:53.

something to mitigate whatever harm Assad might do, perhaps we can do

:39:54.:39:57.

something to protect people but probably somebody has to win and on

:39:58.:40:02.

balance it is probably better that it is Bashir al-Assad at the moment.

:40:03.:40:08.

Even though our guest earlier, the refugee now working as a teaching

:40:09.:40:12.

assistant in a Scottish secondary school, he is clear that he thinks

:40:13.:40:15.

everyone might end up dead if this continues. I imagine that, whoever

:40:16.:40:22.

wins, a lot of people will end up dead. I don't think there is any

:40:23.:40:25.

sense in which anyone can be described as winning best. It is the

:40:26.:40:30.

most horrific situation. I know what you are trying to say but it is such

:40:31.:40:35.

a disastrous situation. I do not want to sound cross but it is war,

:40:36.:40:42.

ugly and bloody and rarely brings about neat resolutions. This is why

:40:43.:40:47.

Andrew Mitchell and I have said to the House, this is about

:40:48.:40:51.

international humanitarian law, the rules by which war is governed, any

:40:52.:40:58.

sense of protecting hospitals, doctors, vulnerable children, that's

:40:59.:41:01.

gone out of the window in this conflict so of course you are right,

:41:02.:41:07.

this is a step beyond. If we are to protect hospitals, doctors and

:41:08.:41:11.

refugees we probably have to protect Isis, whatever we call them,

:41:12.:41:16.

probably have to bomb the Russians, attacked Russian warplanes, we are

:41:17.:41:20.

not in a position to get into that. And sadly we are not in possession

:41:21.:41:25.

of enough time to get into this sort of observation, Matthew Parris,

:41:26.:41:26.

Alison McGovern, thank you both. We'll leave you with images

:41:27.:41:29.

from the city of Aleppo, where it seems President Assad's

:41:30.:41:33.

forces may soon be back Good evening, a mild start to

:41:34.:42:27.

Wednesday across the board, cloudy for much of England and Wales

:42:28.:42:31.

although that cloud should melt from the south with good spells of

:42:32.:42:33.

sunshine coming. It

:42:34.:42:34.

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