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MPs' call to protect Syrian Christians

By Mark Andrews | Pattingham | Politics | Published:

A Shropshire MP has raised concerns about the dangers facing Christians in Syria.

Mark Pritchard

Concerns have been expressed about Christians living in the north-east of Syria since President Donald Trump announced in December that he planned to withdraw all US troops from Syria.

Mark Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin, raised the issue with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt during a parliamentary debate on tackling the terror group Islamic State.

At the moment the north-east of Syria is controlled by a US-backed Kurdish-led coalition. But the decision to withdraw troops has led to fears that Christians living in the area could find themselves under attack from the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Pritchard believes a plan put forward by Turkey, to create a safe haven in the area, could be an option while a peace plan is put in place.

During the debate, Mr Pritchard said: "The Foreign Secretary will know that the self-governing regime and the Arab-Christian coalition in the north-east of Syria are under huge pressure from the Assad regime.

"What is the Government’s latest thinking on the safe haven plan of President Erdogan of Turkey?"

Mr Hunt replied that the Government was looking at the safe-haven plan 'very closely', and was in talks with the US government about the feasibility of it.

"We understand the strategic reason why President Trump wants to withdraw American troops, but our concern is to make sure there no unintended consequences," he said.

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"That is why we think it encouraging that, although the original announcement suggested this withdrawal would happen very quickly, the United States has behaved with considerable pragmatism in practice."

Last month Mr Trump said he was looking at the possibility of creating a 20-mile 'safe zone' in Syria, adding that it formed part of his decision to withdraw 2,000 US troops from the country.

The decision sparked the resignation of US defence secretary James Mattis.

Speaking after the debate, Mr Pritchard said: "Safe havens area only one option in trying to keep the remaining anti-Assad communities safe before a comprehensive political solution and peace plan is finally put in place.

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"There are very many challenges with safe havens but it is one possible option suggested by Turkey."

The precise details of what the 'safe haven' plan would involve have yet to emerge, but Mr Trump is reported to have discussed the idea with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement saying: "The two leaders agreed to continue to pursue a negotiated solution for north-east Syria that achieves our respective security concerns," but did not elaborate any further.

While how the zone would work is yet to emerge, a similar US effort to work with Turkey to create similar zones further west failed in 2016 after Turkey and its allies began attacking Kurdish positions in northern Syria.

Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews
@MAndrews_Star

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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