MPs debate Syria: 'Humanitarian crisis of the first proportion'
Published Tuesday, May 7, 2013 1:21PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 7, 2013 8:03PM EDT
Canada must do more to address the deadly conflict in Syria and the resulting humanitarian crisis, Liberal MP Bob Rae said Tuesday evening as he kicked off an emergency debate on the issue in the House of Commons.
“By any definition, whatever else we face in Syria…the one thing we know for certain is that this is a humanitarian crisis of the first proportion,” Rae said, urging the Conservative government to step up its efforts to help displaced Syrians in the Middle East and increase the political pressure on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Rae, who introduced the motion to debate the Syrian crisis, said the 1.5 million Syrians who are now residing in refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and other nearby countries, present a security risk to the region as potential targets.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Canada has taken “real” and “significant” action to help the people of Syria, but acknowledged that those efforts will never be enough given the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis.
“It’s very hard to get aid to people who need it the most,” Baird said, referring to the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have been internally displaced within the country.
Bob Dechert, Baird’s parliamentary secretary, also said that Canada is the largest contributor on a per capita basis when it comes to helping refugee camps outside Syria.
Baird said the only way to end the Syrian conflict is through a political solution because providing the rebel groups with more weapons is not going to work.
“The more arms that flow into this country, the more Assad ratchets up his response,” Baird said.
He also said that significant sanctions on the Syrian regime have not been effective.
The emergency debate is not expected to result in a decision to take concrete action on the escalating crisis.
Baird told CTV’s Power Play earlier Tuesday that the government is not considering sending the military into Syria.
The crisis in Syria has worsened in recent weeks, with the United Nations investigating reports that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, specifically the nerve gas sarin, against citizens.
A UN official suggested Monday that sarin had been used by the opposition rebels, a claim disputed by White House spokesperson Jay Carney.
"We are highly skeptical of suggestions that the opposition could have or did use chemical weapons," Carney said Monday. "We find it highly likely that any chemical weapon use that has taken place in Syria was done by the Assad regime. And that remains our position."
Israel has also targeted weapons caches with air strikes, last Friday and then again on Sunday. Reports suggest the weapons had come from Iran and were destined for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, for use in attacks against Israel.
Blasts have rocked the capital Damascus and other sites, with one hit being blamed for the deaths of 42 Syrian soldiers.
While Israel will neither confirm nor deny the airstrikes, U.S. officials have said they support Israel’s right to defend itself against potential attacks on its soil.
“I think freedom-loving people everywhere should be happy,” that those weapons did not make it into Lebanon, Baird said Tuesday.
The escalating violence has increased pressure on both the U.S. and Canada to provide arms or other support to Syrian rebels. While the U.S. has sent help in the form of body armour and other aid, Canada has remained wary of what Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird called “radical Jihadists” that have infiltrated the opposition movement.
Baird has said that Canada has received “substantial evidence” that chemical weapons have in fact been used inside Syria, but that the government would hold off taking action before more facts are in.
Canada has pledged $1 million to support pro-democracy programs in Syria, as well as $13 million to help refugees who have fled to neighbouring Jordan.
U.S. President Barack Obama has said his country will not intervene militarily in Syria without firm confirmation that chemical weapons have been used.
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