Friday 28 October 2016

British warplanes and drones carried out more than 585 successful air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq

Published 08/02/2016 | 19:21


British warplanes and drones have now carried out more than 585 successful air strikes against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq, the International Development Secretary has announced.

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Justine Greening said that as of February 5, RAF Typhoon and Tornado aircraft alongside Reaper drones have flown more than 2,000 combat missions against IS, also known as Daesh.

Since Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond updated the Commons in December on the British and coalition action against IS, there have been military successes in Ramadi, Iraq and near Al Hal and around the Tishrin Dam in Syria, she added.

Making a statement on the UK's response to the Syria crisis, Ms Greening told MPs: "Since the Foreign Secretary last updated the House on the campaign against Daesh in Syria and Iraq the global coalition, working with partner forces, has put further pressure on Daesh.

"Iraqi forces with coalition support have retaken large portions of Ramadi and in Syria the coalition has supported the capture of the Tishrin Dam and surrounding villages as well as areas south of Al Hal.

"The UK is playing our part.

"As of February 5, RAF Typhoon, Tornado and Reaper aircraft have flown over 2,000 combat missions and carried out more than 585 successful air strikes across Syria and Iraq."

Ms Greening called on Russia to use its influence to urge Bashar Assad's regime in Syria to stop indiscriminately bombing civilians.

In recent days a major Russian-backed offensive by pro-government forces in the northern Aleppo province has caused the massive displacement of refugees to the Turkish border.

Amid the intense fighting, the United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura suspended peace talks until later this month.

Ms Greening said: "The UN's special envoy for Syria took the decision to pause these talks following and increase in air strikes and violence by the Assad regime backed by Russia.

"The UK continues to call on all sides to take steps to create the conditions for peace negotiations to continue.

"And in particular Russia must use its influence over the regime to put a stop to indiscriminate attacks and the unacceptable violations of international law."

Ms Greening also urged the regime and other parties in the conflict to stop the illegal use of siege and starvation as a tactic and obstructing humanitarian aid from getting to civilians.

She said: "Across Syria, Assad and other parties to the conflict are wilfully impeding humanitarian access on a day by day basis.

"It is a brutal, unacceptable and illegal action to use starvation as a weapon of war.

"In London world leaders demanded an end to these abuses including the illegal use of siege and obstruction of humanitarian aid."

Ms Greening hailed the £7 billion in aid pledged by international leaders at a donor's conference for Syria in London on Friday.

Some £4.1 billion has been pledged this year and a further £3.4 billion will be handed over by 2020 while Britain is donating an extra £510 million, taking the total funding from the UK to £2.3 billion.

Much of the focus will be on providing education for children and jobs for adults inside Syria and in the neighbouring countries which have taken in millions of refugees.

Ms Greening said that providing opportunities for Syrians in the region would ease the flow of refugees into Europe.

She said: "Going beyond people's basic needs at the London conference, the world said that there must be no lost generation of Syrian children, pledging to deliver education to children inside Syria and education to at least one million refugee and host community children in the region outside Syria who are out of school.

"This is an essential investment not only in these children but in Syria's future.

"It also gives those countries generously hosting refugees temporarily the investment in their education systems that will benefit them for the longer term.

"The London conference also made a critical choice on supporting jobs for refugees and economic growth in the countries hosting them.

"We hope that historic commitments with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan will create at least one million jobs in countries neighbouring Syria so that refugees have a livelihood close to home."

She added: "If we can give Syrians hope for a better future where they are, they are less likely to feel that they've got no other choice left than to make perilous journeys to Europe."

Labour welcomed the moves on aid to avoid a "lost generation" of Syrian children.

Shadow international development secretary Diane Abbott said: "The Syrian crisis is the most pressing humanitarian challenge facing us at this time and the Government is to be commended on co-hosting this important conference which has raised over 10 billion US dollars for Syrian refugees.

"The Government is also to be commended on doubling our own commitment, to over £2.3 billion.

"The emphasis on education and jobs is entirely correct, we cannot allow a whole generation of Syrian children to be lost."

Ms Abbott added the "wholly commendable" efforts for refugees in the region are at odds with the Government's "wilful myopia" to the plight of 500,000 Syrian refugees in Europe.

She said: "The funds this conference will raise are vital. But surely it's also vital that this country shows a willingness to take its fair share of refugees, including Syrian refugees."

Ms Abbott said the UK's agreement to take 20,000 Syrians over five years is fewer than Germany has taken in a month.

She went on to Ms Greening: "We appreciate on this side that this country is not signed up to Schengen.

"But do you acknowledge that the fact we are signatories to Schengen doesn't remove the moral responsibility that falls on us as part of the European family of nations?"

On the Save the Children campaign calling on the UK to welcome 3,000 child refugees, Ms Abbott told Ms Greening: "You may wish these children had stayed in the region but the direction in which the children chose to flee does not make them any less vulnerable.

"These children may not be in the part of the world you'd prefer but they are still lone children at risk of abuse, sex trafficking and worse.

"You cannot behave as if there are two classes of child Syrian refugees - one set who stay in the region who you are prepared to help, but then another class who have travelled to Europe on who you turn your back."

Ms Greening defended the UK's Syrian refugee programme and insisted the country is helping in Europe.

She said: "In more recent days we have set out the work that we'll be doing to particularly help children affected by this crisis.

"In fact, I'm very proud of the work the UK has done to put children at the centre of our response to the Syrian crisis."

Ms Greening said Russia should play its role in pressing the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad to allow aid in Syria to reach the people who "desperately" need it.

She said: "I believe in time, as we look back on this crisis in the years to come, this breach we see of international humanitarian law will be one of the most telling aspects of it that people ask themselves, 'How could this have been allowed to go on?'."

Patrick Grady, the SNP's international development spokesman, insisted a negotiated peace is the only viable long-term solution and questioned if UK air strikes have helped or hindered its "peacemaker" role.

He asked Ms Greening: "What discussions are you continuing to have with your Cabinet colleagues about the impact of UK air strikes and do you believe that the UK's involvement has helped or hindered its role as a peacemaker?

"And how can the Government be confident its bombing is not adding to human misery and that while seeking to improve humanitarian response on one hand it's not adding to the crisis on the other?"

Ms Greening replied: "I couldn't disagree with you more frankly on UK air strikes.

"You won't be surprised to hear that, but one of the key challenges to ever reaching any kind of a peaceful settlement in Syria is, of course, the presence of the barbaric Daesh, who day to day routinely commit acts of unspeakable brutality - particularly on women I should say, on people more generally - in the territories they control.

"These people are not simply going to get up and go home. That's why we need to take military action against them to force them out of those territories.

"We're already seeing it happen in Iraq. They're leaving a wasteland behind them but at least it's a wasteland we can start to rebuild and we're going to do the same in Syria."

Labour's Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) warned of the "awful" developing humanitarian crisis at the Turkish border.

She questioned if the Foreign Office or Prime Minister David Cameron has called in the Russian ambassador to the UK amid concerns over the impact of Russian bombing in Syria.

Ms Clwyd said: "He should be called in every day until they stop barrel bombing the civilians in Syria."

Ms Greening said Russia has a "critical part to play" in enabling the peace talks to move forward, although the country is taking Syria further away from a settlement due to its bombing raids on the moderate opposition.

Conservative Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) called for the Government to do more in Europe.

Recalling her recent visit to Lesbos, Ms Allen told Ms Greening: "The Greeks are not coping.

"We need as Britain to lead - as we have done on the global stage - in Europe too. There are children, there are refugees in Europe who need our help. Greece is on its knees."

Ms Greening agreed to meet with Ms Allen, Conservative Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds) and Caroline Ansell, Tory MP for Eastbourne, to discuss their trip.

She added to Ms Allen: "I'd reassure you that we're playing as much of a role as we can do working with Greece.

"It's the UK that's worked with the UNHCR, which has been registering many of the refugees that have been arriving in Greece, but in the end we have to accept that Greece has sovereign control itself and will want to ultimately organise how it deals with refugees."

In the Lords, Labour former Cabinet minister Lord Hain warned there had been "far too much bombast and blunder" by the Government and urged ministers to show a "sense of humility".

Lord Hain asked for some recognition that western foreign policy had "in large part been responsible for this disaster" and criticised attempts to set pre-conditions by insisting Assad must go within six months.

"You cannot get negotiations off the ground and deal with Russian malevolence unless we learn the lessons from Northern Ireland which are that you do not put pre-conditions on and you try to get a political settlement in the context of everybody co-operating and finding out where different interests can be reconciled," he said.

For the Government, Baroness Verma said it would be more constructive for Britain to work with international partners to ensure support for the people of Syria.

She said the clear message had to go out that what Assad was doing to the people of Syria was not acceptable.

Assad and other parties to the conflict were "wilfully preventing and impeding humanitarian access".

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