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EU Strategy on Syria

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Published on May 20, 2017

We continue to describe the situation in Syria as being a civil war, but over the course of the past seven years the conflict has become increasingly a proxy war between the two main divisions of Islam. Despite paying lip service to the fight against ISIS, Russia continues to target the majority of its efforts against other Sunni groups that seek to overthrow the Assad Alawite regime. Turkey is still driven by Erdoğan’s overriding aim of preventing the emergence of a Kurdish quasi—state on its Syrian border, regardless of the fact that the YPG forces have proved to be the most effective forces against ISIS and have received continuous support from Turkey’s NATO allies, including the Americans.

Western efforts have, with the exception of the US strike against the Shayrat airbase in April, exclusively been focused on the fight against ISIS. The Assad regime, with Iranian support, is meanwhile at its strongest point since the conflict began, consolidating its territorial gains and confident that Russia’s continuing military backing for it will give it sufficient protection. Such confidence was demonstrated by the horrendous chemical attack carried out in Idlib in April which killed 70 people. Such confidence has also resulted in other atrocious human rights abuses. Just yesterday the US State Department endorsed the findings of an Amnesty International report which claims that prisoners at the Saydnaya prison complex are being executed and buried and incinerated in mass graves.

In the Geneva UN talks, the departure of Assad is clearly the first point for moving forwards. I called in this House more than six years ago now for a no-fly zone, but all options must now be considered for the sake of defending civilians and their lives, of peace, including things such as transitional arrangements, territorial partitions and even amnesties, however unpalatable.

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