On the 22nd February 2018 the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Dr Alan smith asked an urgent (Private Notice) Question in the House of Lords about the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta in Syria. The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, also asked a question during the follow-up. Both the Bishops’ contributions can be found below.
Syria: Eastern Ghouta – Private Notice Question
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to respond to the crisis in Eastern Ghouta in Syria.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con); My Lords, Eastern Ghouta has become hell on earth. We are appalled that the Assad regime has held the enclave under siege for many years and has now escalated its bombardment. People are dying from starvation or lack of medical treatment. The United Kingdom Government have continued to press the regime and its enablers through all international fora to end this unthinkable situation. We call on Russia to agree a UN Security Council resolution for humanitarian access later today.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, we are witnessing a crisis unfolding in front of us, with more than 300 people killed in the last few hours and much larger numbers of innocent civilians injured and maimed. Indeed, I understand that a third of the hospitals have been deliberately taken out through targeted bombing. If the ceasefire is agreed and implemented, what plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to help with the evacuation of those who have been injured and the provision of humanitarian aid? If the ceasefire is not agreed or implemented, what plans do Her Majesty’s Government have to put further pressure on the Assad regime to stop this terrible suffering that is going on?
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The right reverend Prelate is right to raise this. I think that all of us have been shocked by the images that we continue to see. If I may digress, I will pay brief tribute to the White Helmets in particular, who are working in intolerable conditions, often helping their own family members. As regards the right reverend Prelate’s two questions, of course we hope that we will reach a resolution today. There was a discussion yesterday, and both Sweden and Kuwait are pressing specifically for a vote on a humanitarian Security Council resolution, which will also include a 30-day cessation.
As the right reverend Prelate will be aware, the area is very near Damascus, and UN agencies—whose efforts we will of course support—are already set up to immediately evacuate the 700 or so people who have been listed as in need of urgent attention and also to provide humanitarian assistance. If, regrettably and challengingly, the Security Council resolution is not reached, I assure all noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate, that we will continue to press through all agencies, including not just the Syrian regime but also Russia, which has a major role to play in this. It is backing the Assad regime, and we will continue, both bilaterally and through international fora, to press Russia for an early resolution.
The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, this may seem a little odd but, given the recent rapprochement between Russia and Turkey, which is not exactly a marriage made in heaven, would it be possible to make an approach through Turkey, or involving Turkey, to apply pressure on the Russians in a way that, given the political delicacies there, might aid the pressure that we need to bring on Syria?