Why world leaders must act to end the bloodshed in Syria

The UN Security Council has face calls to order a desperately needed ceasefire in eastern Ghouta, the rebel-held area of Damascus were the plights of civilians has been described as "hell on earth".

Syrian government bombing has targeted hospitals and residential areas, with hundreds of people killed and wounded in recent days.

Ahead of the UNSC meeting on Thursday, surgeon Dr David Nott - who has worked in hospitals in Syria during the conflict - and chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon wrote this open letter urging action.

  • Dr David Nott and Hamish de Bretton-Gordon:

The targeting of the civilians of Ghouta over the last four days is the most devastating and damaging attacks in this conflict, where superlatives now do not suffice to describe the dreadfulness. There are at least 300 dead and many thousands injured in this besieged suburb just minutes from the centre of Assad’s capital.

Directly targeting civilians is a crime against humanity and targeting hospitals is not only abhorrent but also directly against the rules of the Geneva Convention which Assad and his key ally Russia have allegedly signed up to. So with this Genocide so clearly playing out on social media in real time, how does the world remain silent?

Union of Syrian Medical Charities (UOSSM) has had eight hospitals directly targeted and four completely destroyed since Monday and one of our doctor’s and a nurse have been killed in the last 24 hours. There are 125 children in these hospitals who require lifesaving treatment, who may well have succumbed during these attacks. Bakeries and food depots, little as they are, are also targeted as people queue outside. This cynical extermination of fellow human beings in 2018 appears little different from the genocides of Srebrenica and Rwanda, leaving many now wishing they had done more at the time to prevent it.

  • Video report by ITV News International Affairs Editor Rageh Omaar

Those of us who have been involved in humanitarian support in Syria for the last seven years thought the devastating chemical attack on Ghouta 21 Aug 2013, which killed up to 1,500 people was as low as things could get. At Doctors Under Fire, we were then involved with UOSSM to get 500 injured and orphaned children out of besieged Aleppo in December 2016. Assad was pummelling Aleppo with high explosive and chemical barrel bombs in a similar way to Ghouta today.

The poisonous gases heavier than air sink underground where people shelter against the air strikes and forces them above ground where they are mowed down by ‘conventional’ bombs and bullets. Many thousands were killed, but our direct pleas to Putin and Assad did produce a ceasefire and allowed these children and many more to escape from the hell hole that was Aleppo. Surely the might of the UN Security Council can do the same for Ghouta?

Dr David Nott has worked in Syrian hospitals. Credit: ITV News

Again in December 2017, we came across nine children with curable cancer and another 20 dying from treatable injuries in Ghouta, and direct appeals to Russia and Syria lead to a ceasefire on Boxing day, 26 December 2016 to get these children to medical facilities elsewhere in Syria. They at least are now on the road to physical if not mental recovery.

In both the assault on Aleppo and the current attack on Ghouta, the Regime are directly targeting those who cannot protect themselves to break their will and force surrender. These people have no choice and are trapped, without a cessation of hostilities they will surely all die, all 350,000 of them. We are told the rebels are being targeted but in the many hours of video footage and photos available we are yet to see a dead rebel fighter.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon has called for a ceasfire. Credit: ITV News

No doubt the Regime and the Russians have drones flying constantly over Ghouta, filming as they go and would undoubtedly be able to identify dead fighters. No doubt this footage is carefully screened as it will be the clearest documentation of this genocide for the International Criminal Court in due course and presumably why it is not available? As the International Community continues to ‘sit on its hands’ let’s hope their security agencies are at least collecting evidence of these atrocities.

There is a solution to this problem which does not have to lead to a wider conflict. Acceptance that Assad and Russia have won this war to start, and that the West will rebuild Syria. An immediate ceasefire is required. The UN’s resolution today is admirable and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, US, UK, France and China must lean ‘heavily’ on Russian to support this resolution. As we have found at Doctors Under Fire, Russia does have sway over Assad and President Putin can deliver this ceasefire. With his [Putin’s] own election due in a few weeks I’m sure he will again want to be seen as the most influential global statesman, and however abhorrent, we expect we must acquiesce to him to allow some sort of peace.

Ghouta has suffered many deaths. Credit: AP

From this difficult position the International Community, collectively, must focus on the UN Geneva Peace Process, which is the only hope for a long term, and vaguely democratic solution to this seemingly intractable problem.The children are the future of Syria. Most are missing their education, many are malnourished and only know a life of conflict. Experts at UOSSM believe as much as 75% have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They also all have access to social media and cannot understand how the free world is allowing them to be slaughtered, and nor can I.

Leaders of the Free World, you need to look at yourselves closely, are you doing your best to save the lives of the children of Syria, and do you want to be complicit to what is developing into one of the greatest Genocides in living memory?

Support the ceasefire.