UK condemns Syrian regime's 'heinous' bombing of rebel town after earthquake

Attack came as locals tried to rescue those trapped beneath collapsed buildings

Marea has a history of conflict between rebels and Assad's regime. AFP
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British MPs have condemned Syrian President Bashar Al Assad for his regime’s “heinous” bombing of a rebel-held town shortly after the colossal earthquake struck.

Marea, a town 35km north of Aleppo, was shelled overnight by government forces, the UK’s House of Commons has heard.

Alicia Kearns, Conservative MP and chairwoman of the influential foreign affairs committee in the UK Parliament, told lawmakers the opposition-held enclave in north-western Syria had come under attack as locals dealt with the aftermath of the earthquake.

Her statement came after the White Helmets organisation of rescuers had issued a letter to diplomats urging them to pressure Damascus “to ensure that there is no bombing in the affected areas”.

“Yesterday he bombed Marea, which was an area affected by the earthquake, in what was a truly callous and heinous attack and opportunism for him to try to attack and destroy the moderate opposition,” Ms Kearns told MPs on Tuesday.

James Cleverly, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, criticised the Assad regime for the “completely unacceptable bombing” of an opposition-held enclave after the natural disaster.

Responding to Ms Kearns’ statement, he said she was “absolutely right to highlight the completely unacceptable bombing of areas in the immediate aftermath of this natural disaster.”

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“Sadly it speaks to a long-standing pattern of behaviour by the Assad regime, a regime that we condemn, have sanctioned and will continue to bring about sanctions — working with our international friends and partners — to try to prevent behaviour like this occurring again,” he added.

Three British nationals are missing following the earthquake, Mr Cleverly said. He said the Foreign Office’s Crisis Response Hub is assisting 35 Britons caught up in the disaster.

More than 5,000 people across both nations are so far confirmed to have died in Monday's earthquake as a search and rescue operation continues.

Difficult conditions, including freezing temperatures, are said to be hampering efforts, particularly in rebel-held Syria, where people have fewer resources and there is a lack of routes to deliver aid through.

Twelve crew members from London Fire Brigade will join 76 search and rescue specialists being sent to the region by the UK government to assist efforts on the ground. They will be accompanied by four specially-trained dogs and specialist equipment.

Rishi Sunak said his government is working to send support to communities affected “as quickly as possible”.

“It’s obviously an incredibly tragic situation that we’re all seeing in Turkey and Syria,” the Prime Minister said.

“I want everyone to know that we are doing what we can to provide support, we are in touch with the authorities in both Syria and Turkey.

“And specifically we are in the process of sending 77 search and rescue experts to Turkey — that’s the most immediate need that they have communicated to us that we can help with — we do have people who are particularly experienced at that.

“We will be sending that support as quickly as possible.”

Footage posted on social media purports to show a building in Aleppo crashing to the ground as onlookers fled for shelter.

The Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity joined the White Helmets in appealing to the international community to pressure the Assad government to refrain from attacking areas hit by the disaster.

In a letter sent to hundreds of diplomats, the association said it had joined the rescuers “in calling on the international community to take action after the catastrophic earthquake that has caused widespread destruction and loss of life” in north-western Syria.

“It also urges the international community to support the rescue of civilians in Syria and to put pressure on the Assad regime and its Russian ally to ensure that there is no bombing in the affected areas,” the association said of the appeal.

The north-western province of Idlib was among Syria’s worst-affected areas.

The association has called for all border crossings to be opened amid reports the government was allowing aid to enter the region via only one crossing.

Updated: February 08, 2023, 9:55 AM