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Parliament Won't Ask Any Syrians What To Do About Syria

Seven British-based men will provide advice on what the UK should do in Syria, despite calls from opposition groups to listen to more Syrian voices.

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Parliament will not hear evidence from any Syrians when it discusses the future of UK military policy in the region on Tuesday, leading to claims from activists that MPs are overlooking the views of those who would be directly affected by any military action in Syria.

The foreign affairs select committee is holding a one-off evidence session on Tuesday to hear views on the current political and military situation in Syria and what Britain should do in the region. Seven witnesses have been invited to address the committee but all are British-based men who work in journalism, academia, or politics. Syrians have been excluded from the list of witnesses, in part because the committee is unsure which group they should talk to.

"Parliament really must listen to Syrians from inside Syria if they're to make effective decisions," said Reza Afshar, a former UK foreign office diplomat who now works with Syrian opposition groups at the Independent Diplomat organisation and has been pushing for the committee to take evidence from residents of the country.

Defence secretary Michael Fallon has already confirmed that the UK is willing to order more drone strikes on British citizens fighting alongside ISIS in Syria, following Monday's announcement that the government last month killed two Britons in an RAF drone attack.

Afshar insisted parliament should hear from opponents of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, who want Western countries to impose a no-fly zone on the country.

"The root cause of the refugee crisis and the extremist threat is the Assad regime," he claimed. "Its incessant murderous aerial bombardment is the biggest killer, fuels extremism, and has driven half the population from their homes. So Syrians rightly call for urgent protection of civilians."

Crispin Blunt, the chair of the foreign affairs select committee, defended the decision to rely on evidence from the likes of Independent journalist Patrick Cockburn, Oxford professor Eugene Rogan, and former Conservative attorney-general Dominic Grieve.

"This is our first evidence session on Syria – we're going to start by speaking to a panel of experts," said Blunt's spokesperson, insisting they had not approached any Syrians because it's not clear which group they should be speaking to. "We're not modelling ourselves on the American Senate committee; there are big questions over who you should be speaking to. You want to do your due diligence first. The Syrian voice is going to be heard but we're not going to instantly put on the stand the first person to put a card in our hands."

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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