High-profile British figures attending 'regime-sponsored' conference in Damascus

High-profile British figures attending 'regime-sponsored' conference in Damascus
The British Syrian Society, founded by Assad’s father-in-law, has organised a Damascus workshop on "ramifications of the war in Syria", which critics dismiss as regime PR exercise.
2 min read
29 Oct, 2016
The workshop is organised by the British Syrian Society and its founder Fawaz Akhras [AFP]
A number of high-profile British figures are set to attend on Sunday a controversial conference in Damascus run by President Bashar al-Assad's father in law, The Guardian has reported.

Raymond Asquith [Lord Oxford], a Liberal Democrats peer, will be speaking at the two-day workshop on the "ramifications of the war in Syria", along with Major General John Holmes, former special forces officer and Kamal Alam, research analyst at the defence and security thinktank Rusi.

British academics as well as Assad government representatives will also be speaking at the event and several high-profile British journalists are set to attend.

The workshop, organised by the London-based British Syrian Society and its founder Fawaz Akhras – the father of Assad's wife Asma - has been slammed by critics as a Syrian regime PR exercise.

Chris Doyle, the head of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, criticised the participation of British figures, calling it "a mistake".

"The regime is trying to energise its public diplomacy and public outreach in Britain. They are trying to maintain this is a neutral conference. It’s simply not. The speakers are senior regime figures, plus others who are extremely supportive," Doyle told The Guardian.

"The British delegates are merely reinforcing the regime's narrative that it's business as usual as they [the regime] carpet-bomb Aleppo and other Syrian cities. It's wrong to take part. If you are involved in track two diplomacy, fine. If you are going on some sort of propaganda conference, no way," Doyle said.

"I don't think the FCO [Foreign Office] will be happy about this."

The Liberal Democrats party said it was not aware of Asquith's Damascus trip. 

"Lord Oxford was part of the Foreign Office for many decades before he became a Lib Dem peer, and we assume any such trip has been organised through contacts he developed during that time," the party told The Guardian.

"We strongly condemn the continuous atrocities committed by the Assad regime and its Russian backers against civilians in Syria. We have called for urgent humanitarian access to besieged areas and have urged the government to establish a no-fly zone."

The British newspaper reported that delegates will be paying their own airline fares but it was unclear whether their accommodation and food expenses will be covered by the Syrian regime.

Several figures have already flow to Beirut, where they will head towards the Syrian border to Damascus.