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World 22/11/2016

Aleppo on brink of starvation, White Helmets chief tells UK parliament

Image: Syria Civil Defense
Raed Saleh believes Russian aggression will not stop in Syria

The leader of Syria’s “White Helmets” civil defence force warned today that citizens of east Aleppo could face death from starvation within weeks due to a lack of aid entering the city.

Speaking at a meeting at the UK parliament, Raed Saleh said that the situation in the city is now so desperate that people were wishing to be killed outright rather than injured in Russian airstrikes, as there were no longer sufficient medical facilities to treat civilian casualties.

Saleh said since Russia had declared a new offensive on 23 September, attacks on the city had targeted hospitals, civil defence centres, schools and bakeries.

“Within 15-20 days we will see people die of starvation through a lack of aid going to the city,” said Saleh, speaking through a translator. He said the number of people in need of emergency medical evacuation from Aleppo had jumped from 300 to over 700 in the past two weeks.

Saleh said the same flight paths used by coalition forces bombing Islamic State could be used to drop aid for civilians, but that the coalition did not seem willing to do anything to help the besieged city.

“The city of Aleppo is at risk of being destroyed completely” he told the meeting, blaming a combination of Russian bombing and Shia militia including Hezbollah. The latest bombardment of Aleppo had featured bunker busting bombs, while elsewhere, the Syrian regime was using napalm. White Helmet volunteers had reported seeing civilians burned to death, he claimed.

Saleh was addressing a meeting hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group Friends Of Syria, the group that was set up by slain MP Jo Cox. He said Cox had been “lost to terrorism”, as many Syrians had also been.

Asked about Russia’s potential role in guiding a peace process, Saleh said: “Nothing will happen if you leave it up to Russia,” adding that a victory for Russia would be disastrous not just for Syria but for the world at large. “If Russia gets its way in Syria, who will it target next?” he asked.

The White Helmets leader directly addressed accusations that his organisation contained armed fighters: “We have former fighters but we encourage them to give up on the path of death and embrace the path of life,” he told the Westminster public meeting, which was chaired by Labour MP Alison McGovern.

The meeting, co-presented by Little Atoms, also featured a showing of a documentary on the White Helmets, recently aired on Netflix

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.