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 am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, in which there is an awful lot wrapped up. As I indicated earlier, the assessment by the United States and ourselves is that the extremist terrorist groups in Idlib constitute perhaps 0.5% of the population—a very small number, about 15,000 people. There are other groups fighting against the regime that the United Kingdom does not designate as terrorist groups, although they are so designated by the regime. There may be another 25,000 to 35,000 people involved in those groups. As I said earlier, the number of civilians in the area is much greater than the numbers in either of those two groups.

The possibility remains for those groups to surrender, either to Turkish or UN authorities, but for those who continue to hold out against any peaceful or negotiated end, if that proves impossible, there is little doubt that military action or special operations may become part of the future. It is essential to civilians that that does not happen, because they will inevitably be caught up in such activity if it takes place, so the determination is to try to find a way to negotiate an outcome.

My hon. Friend said that people could go elsewhere, but the problem is that Idlib is the end of the line. It is where people have been brought to now. Whatever the solution, it must be an Idlib solution, and we are pressing all the authorities to do all they can for a negotiated surrender solution, if that is possible, to spare lives. However, the most important thing is that those who have had no contact with extremist groups and the civilians who have been caught up in this should be safe and free from the risk of indiscriminate attacks, which should stop now.