Hundreds of people gathered outside 10 Downing Street yesterday evening in London to protest against the massacre of civilians by Syrian regime forces in the city of Aleppo.
Organised by grassroots group #Youth4Aleppo as a reaction to Syrian citizens recording the massacre online, Londoners began mobilising themselves in solidarity against the brutal killing in opposition-held east Aleppo.
“We are a group of concerned individuals frustrated by the situation unfolding in Aleppo,” Harry Shotton, one of the organisers behind #Youth4Aleppo, explained. “We couldn’t be the generation that stood by and let war crimes and genocide be live-tweeted and put on Facebook.”
The group has demanded a “UN-brokered ceasefire, the unrestricted delivery of humanitarian aid – including air drops – and the safe evacuation of all civilians and non-combatants from Aleppo.”
Reports began circulating on Monday evening of Assad regime forces and Iranian-backed militia groups carrying out summary executions in Aleppo and mass arrests.
“We are fed up with the UK government and international powers’ failure to provide a reasonable solution to protect people in Syria and those leaving Syria,” a protester told MEMO. “We need intervention to create humanitarian corridors, to provide aid and to keep hospitals running.”
The United Nations has said 85 people were killed in Monday’s massacre however local media reports have contested the figure, claiming it is higher. More than 1,000 people have been killed over the last month.
A temporary ceasefire was agreed by Russia yesterday evening to allow the remaining 100,000 residents living under siege in eastern Aleppo to escape to Idlib. However reports today have indicated that bombing of eastern Aleppo has resumed and the situation remains humanitarianly dire.
East Aleppo was first captured by opposition groups in 2012 and by 2014 was blockaded causing a massive humanitarian situation to arise. Russia then began its military strikes alongside the Syrian army in 2015 and has initiated a number of ceasefires this year which has done little to ease the impact on the city.
In what the United Nations described as “a complete meltdown of humanity”, protesters near Westminster also criticised British Prime Minister Theresa May for her silence over the brutality witnessed on Monday evening and called on the government to begin sending air parcels to affected areas in Syria and to initiate an immediate ceasefire.
“There is a massive humanitarian crisis [in Syria] and we need to be doing something about this,” protester Rijia Begum explained. “The world is doing nothing to help. We are standing here today for the victims of eastern Aleppo.”
The 400-strong protesters outside the prime minister’s residence shouted slogans urging the international community to save Syria’s children and for Assad to step down: the same slogans Syrians have been using for the last five years since the revolution’s onset in 2011.
“The least we should do is protest,” one protester told MEMO. “We should come out to the streets and say this is a crime. Realistically it won’t change much but to let it pass without protesting would be shameful.”
A petition has circulated online calling on the British Parliament to send aid to the people of Aleppo and since accumulated 45,650 signatures with over 10,000 petitions submitted to the British government.
Pro-Assad government forces launched a major offensive last month in an attempt to regain control of the city from opposition rebels. Russia’s military officials have confirmed that 98 per cent of the territory is now under regime control.
“Humanity is dead,” Issam Hamzi, a Syrian woman from Homs, told MEMO. “There is a criminal in Syria; his name is Assad [and he has] allowed Putin, Iran and Hezbollah to occupy Syria.”
During an emergency debate yesterday at the House of Commons on the events in Aleppo hours before the protest, former UK chancellor George Osborne stated how he “blames himself” for what the government prevented from getting done.
“The tragedy in Aleppo did not come out of a vacuum – it was created by a vacuum. A vacuum of Western leadership, of American leadership, of British leadership.”
Syria has undergone nearly six years of brutal war since demonstrators first began peacefully calling for Al-Assad’s departure during the Arab Spring in 2011. The violent response by government forces against civilians and opposition groups has resulted in nearly half a million dead with the many parts of the country destroyed and rocked by widespread abuse.
Video report by Jehan Alfarra