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The Bundestag debates: What action should Germany take in the Syria conflict?

Representatives from all parties have debated what possible actions the German government should take in defusing the crisis in Syria. All sides agree that more action is needed, albeit without agreeing on what.

Representatives from all major German parties gathered in the Bundestag on Wednesday to discuss possible actions for the government could take in defusing the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria.

All party groups criticized the government for shortcomings in its foreign policy, which they say has allowed the war in Syria to worsen. Since last week, forces loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have launched a major offensive into eastern Aleppo, capturing territory held by rebels since 2012. Some 16,000 people have been displaced in the last week alone on the back of the regime's latest military campaign in the besieged city.

On the back the regime's latest push into rebel strongholds, Germany's Green Party had called for the special debate, known as an "Aktuelle Stunde," which translates as "Topical Hour." These debates are called for and prearranged when a group wants to gather representatives from all parties to address a particularly urgent issue.

Green Party urges aid 'on the ground or from the sky'

It was the chairwoman of the Alliance '90/Green Party parliamentary group, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, who opened the debate with a message to the people of Syria: "People of Syria, we are thinking of you."

Göring-Eckardt likened the conflict in Aleppo to the war crimes committed in Rwanda, Grozny and Srebrenica, and urged parliament to ask itself whether it was doing enough in trying to foster a peace settlement.

"One can never do enough," she said as she called on Germany to engage more in the diplomatic process and provide humanitarian aid both "on the ground and from the air."

Earlier on Wednesday, Franziska Brantner, a member of the Bundestag foreign affairs committee, told DW TV that the Greens hoped the government would push for more humanitarian access into Syria. "We need to either have access on the ground. If that's not possible we need to have air drops so that we can get food and medical aid to the people and children on the ground."

"We have 1 million people without any assistance and we need to really assess our efforts to bring that aid to the people," Brantner said.

Norbert Röttgen from Christian Democratic Union described the conflict in Aleppo as the "biggest disaster in Western foreign policy in the last decade." He warned that simply exhibiting shock and dismay over the current situation was little more than a demonstration of Berlin's helplessness.

Intervention may escalate the conflict, he said, but "not intervening won't spare one from shouldering the guilt." Nevertheless, the German government should call out Russia's militarist intervention to the conflict and issue sanctions against those committing war crimes in the region. This was one of the few options Germany has in ending the conflict, he said, and is one it has to take.

Left Party: Germany should leverage influence over Turkey and Saudi Arabia

However, Heike Hänsel from the Left Party called out Röttgen for dismissing Germany as helpless in the conflict. Germany, she said, boasts significant influence in the conflict, namely with Turkey and Saudi Arabia - two states currently arming and supporting actors in the war. She called on Germany to "leverage this influence."

She also argued that it was irresponsible to lambast the brutality in Aleppo while simultaneously praising the Iraqi army's offensive against the so-called "Islamic State" in the besieged city of Mosul. "One cannot differentiate human suffering," she said. "War is always a crime and a failure of politics."

She also said that one could no longer rely on the "devastating politics of regime change." Sanctions should be lifted against Syria, since these typically hit the civilian population the hardest and enrich the black market, where Islamist militant groups often seek to profit.

Annen backs Steinmeier intervention

Niels Annen, the Social Democratic Party's foreign affairs spokesman, hit back at Göring-Eckardt for suggesting that the German government had failed to act in working towards a peaceful solution in Syria. "No one is backing away," he said.

He praised Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier for pushing to bring all actors to the table "since his first day in office" and outlined the foreign ministry's work in supporting the White Helmets, a volunteer civil defense organization operating in rebel-held Syria. Annen also said Germany was financially supporting the documentation of war crimes in the region, which are being prepared for an eventual legal review.

Annen also warned the chamber against becoming too preoccupied with what it could not change in Syria - a conflict involving most of the Middle East, NATO, Russia, and others. He said that focusing too much on Germany's limitations while ignoring what fragile diplomatic progress had been made risked sending the defeatist message that "we can't achieve anything, anyway." 

Annen also warned the chamber against becoming too preoccupied with what it could not achieve in Syria. Focusing too much on Germany's limitations - in a conflict involving most of the Middle East, NATO, Russia and more - meant parliament ran the risk of sending the message that "we can't do anything, anyway," he said.

 

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