The British government should be dropping “bread" not "bombs” in Syria, a senior SNP MP has said against calls for the RAF to deliver food parcels to crisis-hit Madaya.
Brendan O’Hara, the party’s defence spokesman, told the House of Commons there was a “terrible irony” that children would “starve to death” in the besieged northern Syrian town while the UK government launched its Brimstone missile at ISIL terrorists in Raqqa.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad has kept the town under siege since July last year and global outrage over images of malnourished children and adults has forced the regime to allow the first UN aid convoy to arrive in the town.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening yesterday condemned the “atrocious situation” as “deliberate and man-made”. The aid convoy carrying food, medicine and hygiene kits has begun to offer assistance to an estimated 40,000 inhabitants.
But some MPs are pushing for air drops delivered by the British military. In the House of Commons, Mr O’Hara drew comparisons with the targeted bombing raids on terrorists, principally in Raqqa in the north of the Syria.
On Monday, the Ministry of Defence confirmed four £100,000 Brimstone missiles - hailed for their accuracy - were used for the first time. Mr O’Hara asked: “If we have the ability to drop bombs, then surely we have the ability to drop bread?”
Speaking to the Huffington Post UK today, he dismissed the response from Ms Greening who suggested the fighter jets carry out an “entirely different RAF operation”. “I wouldn’t have thought you would have fighter jets dropping food,” he said. “The RAF has a lot more in its locker.”
He went on: “There is an irony that at the same time as we are dropping bombs that supposedly minimise civilian casualties, children are starving to death. I appreciate we are trying to get the convoys through. But if the convoys don’t get through, then if we have the ability to drop bombs then surely we have the ability to drop bread?
Ms Greening signalled she was cool on the idea because of the risk of parcels “ending up in the wrong hands”.
But Mr O’Hara said: “If that does happen, so be it when people are dying. I just don’t accept that argument. I accept that this should be used as a last resort - but surely we are at that stage. If people are starving to death then surely you do everything you can.”
Fellow SNP MPs - Patrick Grady, the party’s international development spokesman, and trade and investment spokeswoman Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh - made the same argument. Tory MP Jason McCartney and Labour MP Jo Cox, who secured the urgent question on Madaya in the Commons, also backed calls for aid to be dropped by air into Madaya.
Ms Cox called for “contingency planning for RAF food drops”, adding: “It has worked before - we have seen it happen. I was an aid worker for more than a decade and I have seen the difference that air drops can make.”
Ms Greening said the UK needs to “ensure that we use the most effective route so that we get the help to the people who are starving on the ground”.
Labour MP John Woodcock told MPs the SNP were asking the minister to "waste time explaining to the SNP what would happen to a food parcel if you were to try to deliver it via Brimstone supersonic missile".