Questions in Parliament over support for Syrian rebels

 

Questions in Parliament over support for Syrian rebels

On 20 December 2017 Baroness Cox asked the Government “what is their assessment of the current situation in Syria”. The Bishop of Leeds, Rt Rev Nick Baines, asked a follow-up question:

Baroness Cox: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current situation in Syria.
 
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, we welcome the progress made in the fight against Daesh, including the liberation of Raqqa. However, the Syrian crisis is far from resolved. Violence continues and the humanitarian situation is dire. Eastern Ghouta, which is besieged by the regime, is a particularly tragic example. A political transition is the only way to bring sustainable peace to Syria, and we support the Geneva process. All parties must work constructively towards a political agreement.
 
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that, during a recent visit to Syria, I and colleagues met faith leaders, medical professionals, intelligentsia and parliamentarians, including the political opposition? All expressed deep anger at the UK Government’s massive funding, of at least ​£200 million, of bodies allied to jihadists. A recent BBC “Panorama” programme showed UK taxpayers’ money given to police assisting atrocities such as stoning victims. Can the Minister say when the UK will stop funding Islamists? As the end of the war against ISIS and other Islamist militias approaches, will the UK Government help all the people of Syria with urgently needed funding for reconstruction to enable people to return to their homes?
 
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My Lords, on the second question raised by the noble Baroness, the Government’s position has been clear: we will aid the reconstruction of Syria once a peace process has been resolved and the prevailing conditions are such that there is stability in Syria. On the noble Baroness’s first question, she referred to the “Panorama” report and the £200 million. That relates to the CSSF, which the Foreign Office administers. As she will know, there are various parts of that funding; the component part that was reported on in the “Panorama” programme related to funding of the police force. The source of that funding, including who we fund through, has been put on hold pending full investigation. I am sure, however, that she would also acknowledge that £45 million of that particular funding pot supports the initiatives—and indeed the incredible courage—of organisations such as the White Helmets.
 
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The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, would the Minister agree that there is a danger here that support for, and funding of, anti-Assad forces, however understandable that may seem from the outside, might lead to exactly the same unintended consequences that we have seen in Iraq—namely, the strengthening of anti-democratic Islamist forces who have no intention of delivering the freedoms that we assume they should?
 
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I assure the right reverend Prelate that the Government are very cognisant of the situation he has illustrated. We remain absolutely determined to ensure that all the delivery mechanisms for any funding that is provided, through the Foreign Office funding pot or DfID agencies, are robustly challenged and checked. In the case illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we will cease funding until we are satisfied that those in receipt of the funds fulfil the mandate of ensuring that they bring peace to the civilians of Syria and ensure equity and justice for all communities across Syria.
 

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