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Ex-UK Labour leader, church head accused of supporting pro-Assad group

Former head of the Labour Party, Lord Kinnock
Former head of the Labour Party, Lord Kinnock

UK based Syrian organisations have raised concerns  over a new centre with close ties to the Syrian regime and a former head of the Labour party as its Patron, carrying out activities in the UK.

Prominent Syrian groups alleged that the newly founded European Centre for the Study of Extremism, Cambridge (EuroCSE), appears to exist primarily to spread propaganda for the Assad dictatorship.

In their letter to the University of Cambridge requesting greater transparency, they state that the organisation’s founder, Makram Khoury-Machool, is a close friend of Assad’s former ambassador to the UK, Sami Khiyami Khoury-Machool, a former lecturer at the University of Cambridge. They allege that the group’s presence in Cambridge and its connections to members of the university is to promote it as a legitimate entity.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Rowan Williams

The organisations say they are concerned that individuals who are opposed to the Assad regime are cooperating with members of the regime and involved with this propaganda exercise. Neil Kinnock, former leader of the Labour party is said to be a patron of the group as is the former Archbishop of Canterbury and current Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge Dr Rowan Williams.

Williams is advertised as a speaker at Westminster conference on Syria being held by EuroCSE on 5-6 April. Representatives of the ten Syrian groups that singed the letter believe that several speakers taking part in the conference have direct links to the regime and its allies.

They mention three in particular: Ali Haidar, Bishr Riyad Yaziji and Hamid Baeidinejad.

Ali Haidar is minister in the Assad regime and a secretary of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a group which runs a militia with up to 8,000 members currently fighting on behalf of Assad.

Bishr Riyad Yaziji, is the Syrian minister for tourism responsible for the advertising campaign which promoted Syria as a land of “pleasure” and “plenty” when around one million people were suffering under starving under a siege.

Hamid Baeidinejad, is the Iranian ambassador to the UK, which the Syrian group say is responsible for war crimes committed in Syria, most recently during the brutal assault on Aleppo in which Iranian troops played a major role.

They called on those involved with the groups who do not share the objectives of this conference to publicly distance themselves from the new organisation and urged the University of Cambridge to publicly make clear its relationship with Makram Khoury-Machool and EuroCSE.

Signatories of the letter to the University of Cambridge include:

  • Dr. Haytham Alhamwi, Rethink Rebuild Society
  • Reem Assil, Syrian Platform for Peace
  • Dr. Fadel Moghrabi, Peace and Justice for Syria
  • Dr. Mohammad Tammo, Kurds House
  • Mazen Ejbaei, Help 4Syria UK
  • Dr. Bachar Hakim, Syrian Society of Nottinghamshire
  • Dr. Abdullah Hanoun, Syrian Community in the South West
  • Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Syrian Association of Yorkshire
  • Clara Connolly, Syria Solidarity UK
  • Abdullah Alobwany, Oxford for Syria
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