UK Politics

Syria: US as much a target for protests as Russia - Labour

Ruined buildings in Aleppo Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Johnson said hospitals and other civilian targets had been deliberately targeted

The US should be as much a target for protests against the violence in Syria as Russia, a spokesman for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested.

He told journalists that a number of foreign powers, including the UK, were involved in the brutal conflict and Russia should not be singled out.

While condemning Russian "atrocities", he said civilians had also been killed by the US-led coalition's bombings.

One Labour MP said the comments were "unworthy of the party".

The row came as Russia reacted angrily to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's call for protests outside its UK embassy.

In a Commons debate on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said the evidence pointed to Russia being behind a fatal attack on an aid convoy in Aleppo and called for the International Criminal Court to investigate this and other possible war crimes.

He questioned why the Stop The War coalition - of which Mr Corbyn is a long-time supporter - and other anti-war groups were not making their feelings known outside the Russian embassy in London, saying Russia risked becoming an international pariah if it continued with its military campaign in support of President Assad.

Responding to Mr Johnson's comments, a Labour spokesman said talks aimed at securing a lasting ceasefire and political settlement in Syria were preferable to demonstrations.

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Media captionForeign Secretary Boris Johnson asks: "Where is the Stop The War coalition at the moment? Where are they?"

Asked whether Mr Corbyn backed demonstrations against Russia, he added: "Obviously, people are entitled and at complete liberty to demonstrate outside not only the Russian embassy, but all the other embassies of those intervening powers.

"People are free to protest outside the intervening powers' embassies and there are a number of them - not just the US and Russia.

"There are multiple foreign interventions in the Syrian civil war and we've emphasised that there needs to be an end to that and those powers need to be part of a negotiated settlement, which is the only way to stop the conflict."

'Diverting attention'

Asked whether he was suggesting a moral equivalence between US and UK actions against so-called Islamic State and Moscow's support for the Assad regime, the spokesman said he was not "in the business of allocating blame".

But he added: "The focus on Russian atrocities or Syrian army atrocities - which is absolutely correct - sometimes diverts attention from other atrocities that are taking place.

"Independent assessments are that there have been very large-scale civilian casualties as a result of the US-led coalition bombing.

"There are several cases of large numbers of civilian deaths in single attacks, and there hasn't been so much attention on those atrocities or those casualties."

Mr Corbyn, he added, had opposed Russian intervention in the five-year conflict from the start - as he had the UK's extension of bombing raids from Iraq to Syria last year.

"The intervention of foreign powers in the conflict has no doubt escalated and fuelled it throughout," he added.

'Unworthy'

Downing Street dismissed any comparison between Russian bombing and UK military operations in Syria, saying its strategy was based on minimising civilian casualties.

"We are working towards peace, towards finding a solution and towards alleviating the humanitarian suffering of the Syrian people," a No 10 spokeswoman said.

"I think very clearly by the fact we were sponsoring a UN Security Council resolution that calls for the end of the bombardment of the people of Aleppo and Russia vetoed that resolution, that's quite a contrast in positions."

Labour MP John Woodcock, a long-term critic of Mr Corbyn, rejected suggestions that the US was as culpable as Russia for attacks on Syrian civilians and the virtual destruction of Aleppo, once the country's largest city.

"This absurdity seems like a deliberate provocation, unworthy of our leader and our party," he said.

And Brendan Cox, whose wife, Labour MP Jo Cox, was co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Syria before she was killed in June, said the comment was "absolutely disgraceful".

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