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Civilians in Syria

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:20 pm on 12th October 2015.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 10:20 pm, 12th October 2015

I will not give way. I have made it very clear that time is short and I am answering the hon. Member for Batley and Spen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will hang on to his seat and I will be delighted to speak to him after the debate.

It is clear that Russia’s priority is not to defeat ISIL but to prop up Assad. Russia has violated Turkish airspace three times in the past week and the UK strongly condemns these provocative violations of NATO members’ sovereign airspace. It is important that allies show solidarity to ensure the inviolability of NATO airspace is respected, so we call on Russia to stop targeting civilians and opposition groups, which are part of the future of Syria. This is Russia’s biggest air deployment beyond its borders since the cold war, with fast jets, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, electronic welfare and air defence systems propping up an ailing Syrian regime whose military is exhausted, depleted and demoralised.

Russia’s entry, with all its propaganda, will no doubt delay a resolution and the political transition about which the hon. Member for Batley and Spen spoke rather than expediting them. It will also widen the extremism footprint for Russia, as significant numbers of foreign fighters supporting ISIL will no doubt react to Putin’s actions.

The hon. Lady mentioned safe zones, and I have taken a lot of time over the summer to consider the issue in detail. We will continue to look at all options along with our allies to protect civilians in Syria. There has been talk of safe or protected zones, no-fly zones and so on, but history tells us that implementing genuinely safe zones is difficult and must be accompanied by an international mandate that would provide the will, the authority and the full means to ensure that they have a chance of being effective. It would also involve significant military commitment. As we have seen, that can be hard to come by from the various Parliaments across the world.

We should also bear in mind the legal justification for intervention in another country has five means. One is a UN Security Council resolution—