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International: Syria – Syrian perception

March 2018

An independent delegation of politicians and religious leaders has visited conflict-ridden Syria to hear the views of local Syrian leaders. Last year, the delegation, which included Baroness Cox, Lord Hylton and Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, listened to what Syrians were thinking about their current conflict situation and what is needed to resolve it.

Many at home and abroad are concerned that ‘moderate’ opposition fighters in Syria supported by Britain are, in fact, dominated by foreign Islamist militants, while sanctions from the West are strangling the country, especially with a lack of medical supplies. Jihadist groups have terrorised local Christians, defaced icons and statues and oppressed churches.

Local Syrian leaders told the delegation they wanted Syria to determine its own future without foreign interference. The Syrian army, helped by Russia, has now driven 90 per cent of ISIS jihadists out of the country and, they claim, there is a new, positive outlook on rebuilding the country. But the delegation was told this could only happen ‘if Britain and its allies would only allow it’.

Syrians believe there is a danger of Islamists still gaining the upper hand, ironically, if the current Assad regime isn’t allowed to govern properly. Aphrem II, patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church, also made his position clear to the visitors: ‘No regime in the world is perfect. Of course, we want reforms. But change has to come from the Syrians, for the Syrians. With respect to the UK, they do not know what the Syrian people need’.

On returning, Baroness Cox reported: ‘There is no moderate armed opposition left and the situation could degenerate into another horrific scenario like Iraq and Libya’. The UK government has admitted £200 million has been spent over three years helping local bodies in jihadi-controlled areas of Syria.

In a statement, Baroness Cox, speaking on behalf of the delegation, said: ‘The consistent and overriding message we heard was the people of Syria want to choose their own future. We support that aim and encourage the British government to listen to such local views, from the Syrians themselves’.