Idlib

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 10th September 2018.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister of State (Department for International Development) (Jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office), Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development) 3:39 pm, 10th September 2018

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his urgent question and congratulate him on securing it. The United Kingdom is extremely concerned about the escalating military action by Russia and the Syrian regime, which is putting at risk nearly 3 million civilians who have sought shelter in Idlib and the surrounding area. The past few days have seen dozens of Russian and regime airstrikes against areas of Idlib. Over the weekend we received reports of three hospitals, two White Helmets centres and an ambulance system being attacked and put out of service, leaving thousands with no access to medical care. Civilians, medical facilities and aid workers must be protected; they are not a target.

It is vital that a humanitarian catastrophe is avoided. The UN has been clear that a worst-case scenario in Idlib would

“overwhelm capacities and…create a humanitarian emergency at a scale not yet seen through” the conflict, with up to 900,000 people displaced. We have therefore been supporting the urgent diplomatic efforts being made by Turkey and the UN. I spoke to my Turkish counterpart on 4 September, and the Prime Minister spoke to President Erdoğan on 27 August to discuss the situation. Of course, the situation is considered by the UN Security Council very frequently.

It is deeply disappointing that Russia and Iran rejected President Erdoğan’s calls for a renewed ceasefire at the Tehran summit last Friday. Russia and the Syrian regime also rejected similar calls by ourselves and others at the UN Security Council on the same day. We urge them to reconsider and instead to find a negotiated way forward to avoid an entirely man-made disaster.

The UK has pledged additional humanitarian assistance and medical support. We are also backing innovative early-warning technology to save lives in communities threatened by airstrikes. Finally, along with the United States and France, we have been clear that we will respond swiftly and appropriately if the Assad regime repeats its appalling use of chemical weapons.