Letters: Arms for the Syrian civil war

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 29 May, 2013

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Thanks to William Hague, the EU embargo on sending weapons to the Syrian rebels has collapsed. His reasons for putting an end to the embargo are that some Syrians need weapons for self-defence, arming the “moderate” rebels will reduce the violence in Syria, and the threat of providing arms will improve the chances of Assad attending peace talks. None of these is credible.

There is no way to ensure that weapons will go to those who will use them for self-defence rather than to wage war on the Syrian government. There is no ground for claiming that arming any rebels will do anything other than add to the bloodshed in Syria. It is likely that threats will tend to make Assad more intransigent rather than anything else.

It is hard for decent people to watch the suffering in Syria. Clearly all possibilities to bring about a peaceful end to this catastrophe must be exhausted before resorting to proxy war (which even then may not be justified).

The US government should urgently engage in talks with Russia, Iran and its own regional allies aimed at bringing about a complete end to the flow of weapons into Syria. The full weight of the British government should be thrown into ensuring that the planned peace conference in Geneva takes place and is a success. If it does not succeed the next step should be to aggressively step up diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, rather than abandon them.

Brendan O’Brien, London N21

Lee Rigby is hacked to death on the streets of London by jihadists. Days later, William Hague persuades the EU to end the Syria arms embargo so we can legally provide weapons which will certainly fall into the hands of jihadists – who will pose an even greater threat to democracy and human rights than Assad.

It would be interesting to know which government, interest group or weapons supplier is jerking the Foreign Office’s chain.

Jean Calder, Brighton

Is William Hague becoming another Blair? Can he not see what will happen if he sends arms to these Syrian rebels? Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states are already supplying arms. This is a war between Arabs and he must not interfere.

M Finn, Hednesford, Staffordshire

War heroes: rhetoric and reality

Most readers will have been disgusted by your report (28 May), that two veteran soldiers, who were disabled serving their country in Afghanistan, were subject to humiliating assessments resulting in denial of support and benefits. It is important that ordinary people focus on those responsible for inflicting this disgrace on honourable men.

True, Atos Healthcare, which won the £200m government contract and carries out these assessments, is regularly reported in the media as responsible for such horrendous treatment, but the company is the servant of the Work and Pensions Department, headed by Iain Duncan Smith, who is responsible to the Cabinet.

The Cabinet’s collective leader is the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Politicians create smoke and mirrors, hoping to deflect blame, and Cameron, who regularly spouts supportive rhetoric about our war heroes, knows full well the crisis they face.

Derek Marks, Dundee

The Friday afternoon GP

Dr Grahame Randall’s letter (27 May) struck a chord with me. A few months ago my 90-year-old aunt became ill enough for us to call her doctor. One of the practice partners obligingly came, late on a Friday afternoon, and pronounced her ill but gave the opinion that she would be better cared for at home rather than in hospital. 

He then departed, without having ascertained what “care at home” might mean. He therefore failed to establish that my aunt depended on a devoted but over-stretched carer who was paid for 10 hours per week, supplemented by quick visits from me (living nearby but aged 74 and responsible for a severely disabled husband).

The resulting weekend was a nightmare of phone calls to find and then contact the rapid response team via social services, during which, as I raced between our houses, both my husband and my aunt fell, necessitating visits from the ambulance service to lift them.

By Monday we had established a care package and we all relaxed. My aunt died on Tuesday.

Her GP, summoning what one might call the Macbeth defence option, said she might have died in hospital anyway. He may well have been right, but if he had taken five minutes to understand her needs and to give us a minimum of information as to supplementary home care, her last few days could at least have been calm and peaceful.

Perhaps Dr Grahame Randall would have dealt differently with such a case.

name and address supplied

GPs seem to be blamed for many of the ills of the NHS at present (letters, 27 May) and most of this criticism is remarkably uninformed. The most popular clamours are for GPs to organise and take part in out-of-hours services again and for GPs to be more available in the daytime. 

It is not difficult to see that these are mutually incompatible unless I go back to my old habits of working all night and working the next day. I fail to see a solution unless we have a huge increase in GP numbers. 

The other factor is that we do not stop working when the surgery doors close at 6pm. The Government has given us so many extra and quite unnecessary targets to achieve that I am regularly doing paperwork until 9pm several evenings every week.  

People are probably unaware that considerably less than  50 per cent of my work is  face-to-face with patients. I am approaching retirement and the present climate is not encouraging me to continue to work increasing hours at an increased pace. 

Along with thousands more GPs in my situation, early retirement seems an attractive option. Oh, how I would love Jeremy Hunt to spend a day with me to find out what really happens in general practice.

Dr Charles Fletcher, Ripon, North Yorkshire

Happy cows on big dairy farms

Simon Pope (letter, 22 May) maintains that planning approval for a 1,000-cow dairy farm in Powys will set a precedent. He fails to acknowledge the dozens of dairy farms with more than 1,000 cows already operating quietly and successfully in Britain.

The RSPCA has just published an opinion that size of dairy farm is not the key issue in relation to welfare; conditions, stockmanship and overall husbandry are the factors which contribute to the welfare status of the animals. It is whether the farming operation, regardless of size, can meet the welfare needs of each individual animal that really matters.

For decades, our dairy farmers have been leaving the industry. New entrants and expansion of existing herds can no longer keep pace with this decline, and we ended last year 14 per cent below our target.

A vibrant industry will include all shapes and sizes of business, but without larger farms we will be in an even worse position, importing more from countries with lower welfare and quality standards.

Amy Jackson, Freeland, Oxfordshire

An odd kind  of ‘betrayal’

However many times I hear variations on the theme of the letter from Julian Self (17 May) – essentially, that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems betrayed their voters by going into coalition – I have never been able to understand the logic.

By going into coalition with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems have been able to deliver much of the party’s 2010 manifesto, for example: guaranteed big pension rises every year; more money for schools with the most disadvantaged pupils; and lifting millions of the lowest-paid people out of paying income tax.

Surely betrayal would have occurred if the party had had the opportunity to enter into government and implement some of its platform, but had run away and therefore implemented none of it. The party was never going to be able to deliver it all, given that it won just 57 of 650 seats.

Stuart Bonar, Plymouth

Cameron’s PR coup misfires

Last Thursday, following the tragic events at Woolwich, Downing Street briefed, and the BBC repeated throughout the day, that “David Cameron would today chair an emergency meeting of the Cobra committee”. This appeared to be an opportunistic attempt to demonstrate our PM’s indispensability and authority following his recent troubles over Europe and gay marriage.

A few days later we are treated to our regular posed picture of the Camerons on holiday abroad, and Dominic Lawson (28 May) is bemused by the tabloid reaction to the PM’s absence. Perhaps a case of the PR machine being too successful?

Brian Rogan, West Wickham,  Kent

Bordering on the absurd

T C Bell writes (letter, 27 May) that the “business elite who wish to stay in the EU fail to answer how Britain can protect its borders”. Have they been asked that question? If not, they have nothing to answer.

I am far from being a member of that elevated group, but I ask T C Bell why he thinks that business should concern itself with border protection. Border control is a national concern whose strategy is driven by government policy. Is he proposing that border control should be privatised? 

Jon Summers, Petton, Devon

Till the fat  person sings

While I am in accord with Celia Jordan on the degendering of female occupations (letter, 27 May), there is no need for her to moot the idea that “singesses” might have been the word for female singers. In the past the word “songstress” was acceptable – fortunately seldom (if at all) used nowadays.

John P Sheldon, Holbrook,  Derbyshire

And “duchesses” and “princesses”?

Ephrem Lash, London N7

Blast-off

Will Nigel Farage be angry or proud that the UK has paid the European Space Agency £16m to send the British astronaut, Major Tim Peake, into space?

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln

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