Time to take sides to try and stop Aleppo horror

As the vast majority of us prepare for Christmas, the absolute horror in the Syrian city of Aleppo continues to unfold day after day.

Column 15 December 2016

Michelle Donelan’s column [15 December 2016]

Haunting images on our TV screens show exhausted parents clutching to their terrified children, young people pushing their elderly relatives in makeshift wheelchairs to flee bombings with all their worldly possessions crammed into a single suitcase. Thousands are being slaughtered, cities flattened and the Syrian army are dropping leaflets warning the inhabitants to flee, or face “annihilation.”

The oppression and destruction has been going on for years, there have been months of bombardment and 5 months of siege. The situation in Aleppo remains dire with desperate images of murder, destruction and UN reports of Syrian pro-government forces going door to door in eastern Aleppo, killing all those inside. This is a disgusting flagrant disregard for human life. It leaves hundreds dead and over a quarter of a million people cut off from supplies of water, food and basic medical help.

The message coming from Aleppo are heart wrenching. Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, report that “all streets & destroyed buildings are full with dead bodies. It’s hell.” and one resident tweeted: “Some people are under the rubble, no-one can help them. They just leave them under the rubble until they die – these houses as their graves.” It is just 2500 miles from Wiltshire to Aleppo.

There has been rightful condemnation from around the world. The first priority of the UK and all other Governments must be the protection of civilians and ensuring access for humanitarian aid.

The UN has described these conditions as the “apex of horror” and yet there has been little to no action taken to stem the brutal violence in Syria. In August 2013, Parliament rejected the government’s case for possible intervention in response to the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s Syrian regime forces. Who knows at what cost.

Britain can be proud of the fact that we are a leading donor to the humanitarian response in Syria, having pledged over £2.3 billion in humanitarian funding. However, Aleppo needs urgent help – help which is currently almost impossible to deliver because the Assad regime and its backers, including Russia, restrict access for United Nations aid workers.

In a small way we can help the region. The Red Cross, who have local shops in Chippenham, Corsham, Trowbridge and Bath, are delivering essential food and medicine to people in desperate need, providing essential food, shelter, water and medical care.

I hope that the UN, with the support of our Government, is able to find a safe passage for Syrians fleeing Aleppo but it is too late for the tens of thousands of people who lie dead in the rubble. As I read reports of the horror in Syria, am almost moved to tears and remember the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. We must always take sides.”

This article is also published on the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald Website HERE.