Majority of British people want UK Government to act over Aleppo

Exclusive: Poll shows 42 per cent would back a no-fly zone or no-bomb zone 

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 27 October 2016 22:28
Syrian government forces advance on the southern outskirts of Aleppo on Tuesday, in the ongoing offensive to seize the rebel-held eastern part of the city
Syrian government forces advance on the southern outskirts of Aleppo on Tuesday, in the ongoing offensive to seize the rebel-held eastern part of the city

A majority of British people would support further action in Syria to ease civilian suffering in war-ravaged eastern Aleppo, an exclusive poll shows.

The BMG Research survey for The Independent reveals that 42 per cent would back either a no-bomb zone or no-fly zone over the city that has become the epicentre of country's civil war.

Others supported a non-military escalation using further sanctions to force Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad to ease up on the bombing that has left rebel-held parts of Aleppo in ruins. While a further small proportion even supported a full-on armed intervention using ground forces.

Russian and Syrian government bombardment in the divided city has seen a huge reported increase in the use of illegal cluster bombs, while Moscow’s Northern Fleet including an aircraft carrier is heading for the Syrian coast.

The US, UK and other Western powers have already said they will consider further sanctions, but indicated little appetite for further military action after a summit earlier this month.

BMG Research asked a representative sample of 1,500 people to state which policy option, from choices ranging from keeping “the current status quo” to an “extensive military intervention using coalition air and ground forces”, would be “best for the UK Government to consider implementing”.

Just over a quarter, 26 per cent, favoured no change and said the Government should keep the status quo, while a further 22 per cent supported further economic sanctions against Russia and Syria.

Meanwhile 16 per cent supported a “no-bomb zone over Aleppo, enforced with the threat of surface to air missiles against Russian and Syrian aircraft”.

Family buries children killed in Aleppo airstrike

A further 26 per cent backed “a no-fly zone over Aleppo, enforced with US and UK military aircraft”. A smaller proportion, 10 per cent, opted or an “extensive military intervention using coalition air and ground forces”.

The head of polling at BMG Research, Dr Michael Turner, said: “It is interesting to note the different approaches preferred between members of the public when dealing with the situation in Syria.

“For instance, although a majority of younger people (18-24) tend to favour the implementation of no-fly or no-bomb zones (55 per cent), older groups (65+) prefer a less involved approach, with a majority (51 per cent) supporting either the status quo or further economic sanctions.

“The results of BMG's latest poll for The Independent show that there is a clear desire among Britons to prevent the further plight of Syrians in Aleppo, but extensive military action, that may involve boots on the ground, would not be a popular policy for most.”

The Violations Documentation Centre, which reports on human rights abuses in the six-year-long Syrian conflict, says figures compiled by doctors and the Aleppo Health Directorate show at least 137 cluster bomb attacks in eastern Aleppo since the renewed regime assault on the city began last month.

While data is hard to accurately assess due to the challenging conditions on the ground, that would make a 791 per cent increase on the average of the previous eight months of the year. Some 30,000 people are thought to have been killed in the city over the duration of the conflict.

Ten days ago both Britain and America warned that Western powers are considering new sanctions against Syria and Russia over the siege of rebel-held Aleppo, which US Secretary of State John Kerry described as constituting “crimes against humanity”.

Prior to a meeting of Western powers hosted in the UK, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested the West would consider all options, including military ones.

But asked after the summit whether further military action could be taken, Mr Kerry said: “I haven't seen a big appetite in Europe for people to go to war.”

On Tuesday, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned that Russia’s Syria-bound fleet could be used to launch more air strikes that hit civilians in Aleppo.The battlegroup includes the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) battlecruiser, the Vice-Admiral Kulakov destroyer, Severomorsk destroyers and several supply vessels.

Mr Putin said on Thursday that Russia had no other option but to clear out what he called “a nest of terrorists” from Aleppo despite the fact that civilians were also present in the city.

He said civilian casualties in conflicts should be mourned everywhere, not just in Aleppo, pointing to what he said were civilians killed around Mosul in Iraq.

Amnesty International has urged the Pentagon and its allies to “come clean” about the full extent of civilian deaths in operations against Isis, with official inquiries so far acknowledging only dozens of casualties.

The organisation published a report claiming at least 300 civilians had been killed in just 11 air strikes by the US-led coalition.

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