Russia blocking evacuation of civilians trapped in Aleppo, says Boris Johnson
Russia is "blocking the evacuation" of civilians trapped in the bombarded Syrian city of Aleppo as reports emerge of executions of non-combatants by Moscow-backed regime forces, Boris Johnson has said.
The Foreign Secretary called for an immediate ceasefire as the United Nations said it had received reports that 82 civilians were killed on the spot by pro-regime troops as they attempted to retake the last of previously rebel-held areas in east Aleppo.
The reports were accompanied by other dispatches of mass killings, reinforcing fears that forces loyal to President Bashar Assad are committing atrocities as they approach victory in the crucial battleground.
The Syrian military said it now holds 99% of the former rebel territory and denied reports of summary killings.
In an emergency House of Commons debate, Mr Johnson faced numerous calls for Britain to help establish a humanitarian corridor for the evacuation of civilians and to air drop aid into Aleppo.
Replying, he criticised Russia, and later China, for blocking draft resolutions tabled at the UN designed to ease the suffering in the city.
Mr Johnson said: "I think the House will join me in condemning those in Moscow and Beijing who will not allow the people of Aleppo even a seven-day respite."
He added: "It is today I have information from Aleppo... it is today the Russians who are blocking the evacuation, not just of the injured but of medical staff from leaving the zones which they themselves are attacking."
The Foreign Secretary also ruled our air drops, warning that transport aircraft would be "sitting ducks" without Russian permission to fly.
He said Moscow has deployed its most advanced fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles to Syria and that even with permission, armed groups including Islamic State would make "every effort to shoot down a British plane".
Leading the debate, former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell said Britain is "complicit" in the suffering faced by thousands of civilians.
He read out the words of an Aleppo resident, who called on the UK to help establish a humanitarian corridor to evacuate civilians.
Former international development secretary Mr Mitchell added: "This country, along with the entire international community, 10 years ago embraced the responsibility to protect, a doctrine which said that nation states will not allow the Srebrenicas, the Rwandas and other appalling events, including in Darfur, to take place again.
"This responsibility to protect was signed up to at great fanfare and embraced by all the international community, great and small.
"Yet here we are today witnessing, complicit, in what is happening to tens of thousands of Syrians in Aleppo."
Former chancellor George Osborne said there had been multiple opportunities to intervene in the country, recalling MPs' decision not to take action against Assad in 2013.
He said the UK's involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan meant politicians in the UK know the price of intervention.
Mr Osborne went on: "I think we have come to a point where it's impossible to intervene anywhere, that we lack the political will as the West to intervene.
"But I have some hope out of this terrible tragedy in Syria which is we are beginning to learn the price of not intervening."
Jeremy Corbyn joined the calls for a humanitarian corridor and wrote to Theresa May calling for a concerted effort.
A spokesman for the Labour leader said: "Jeremy has repeatedly condemned the Russian military intervention and bombing campaign in Syria and called for an independent investigation of evidence of war crimes.
"Labour has called for urgent talks to achieve a negotiated political settlement involving the main parties to the conflict, along with the regional and international intervening powers - and he has written to the Prime Minister today calling for a concerted effort to achieve a UN-led ceasefire and UN-brokered humanitarian corridors."
The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said reports of summary killings were extremely concerning.
She said Britain was working with EU countries to secure a "strong, clear statement" about "the need for humanitarian access and for a ceasefire" at the conclusion of Thursday's European Council summit in Brussels.
At a Westminster briefing, she went on: "There are some extremely concerning reports coming out from Aleppo of what is happening there.
"We have consistently throughout said that people should need to face consequences for their actions, that's some of the work that we have been doing with partners.
"We need the international community to come together and alleviate the suffering in Aleppo, and as we have consistently said, and if you look at some of the reports coming out of Aleppo, we do not think that President Assad, who is presiding over such barbaric cruelty to the people of Syria, is a route to a long-term secure, prosperous future for Syria.
"That's why we think there needs to be a political transition away from Assad."
Save the Children said the situation was "catastrophic" with people's worst fears of revenge attacks becoming a reality as it joined the calls for humanitarian corridors.
Hundreds of children are believed to be in the middle of the battlefield, the charity's Kirsty McNeill said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the city "have literally nowhere safe to run" and urged fighters to observe "the basic rules of warfare - and of humanity".
Unicef said it is concerned over the unverified reports of "extra-judicial killings of civilians, including children".
Russia criticised US president Barack Obama's administration, which is also calling for a ceasefire.
"We are tired of hearing this whining from our American colleagues in the current administration that we need to immediately halt military action," foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists during a visit to Serbia.
Tory chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Crispin Blunt, said Russia was responsible for the situation and the conduct of the campaign.
He told Channel Four News: "There is a much greater evidential trail now, and so, sometime in the future, I hope the people responsible for crimes in Aleppo, and elsewhere in this conflict, are going to be held to account."