By the Rt Hon. David Jones MP

Former Cabinet Minister David Jones MP calls for greater protection of civilians in Aleppo and calls on Western nations to press Iran to end its support for the Assad regime.

The extension of the ceasefire around the city of Aleppo is a welcome development.  Now  the international efforts in Geneva should focus on adopting urgent, robust measures to ensure that it is fully respected.

The indiscriminate bombing of civilians, including women and children, hospitals and medical facilities in Aleppo by the Assad regime and its backers that prompted the international diplomatic push for a temporary ceasefire is not only a cowardly act; it is tantamount to a war crime.

A verifiable, permanent end to the Assad regime's bombing of innocent civilians in beleaguered cities must be the prerequisite to  the international push to secure a political transition. Assad and his backers, the Iranian regime and Hezbollah, should and must not be allowed to use the talks to improve their position on the ground by targeting defenceless citizens and the Syrian opposition.

The ongoing diplomatic process should not remain blind to the continuing violence; continuing to be  so will only exacerbate the refugee crisis in Europe and assist  the expansion of Daesh in the region.

In this regard, the international community must strongly condemn the counterproductive role played by the Iranian regime in Syria. Tehran continues to build  up its military presence in the country to compensate for the heavy losses of its Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is fighting alongside Assad's forces. Particularly alarming are the efforts of Tehran and its proxy Hezbollah to mobilise for a ground assault to retake  Aleppo, the ruined city that  is the centre of anti-Assad revolution and home to several hundred thousand civilians.

Tehran is now so desperate to save the Assad regime that its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, recently appointed a clergyman and close confidant named Abolfazl Tabatabai-Ashkezari as his new personal representative in Syria. Moreover, the IRGC's “civilian arm” Basij has launched a propaganda campaign in Iran in recent months, with state media  broadcasting a video aimed at recruiting child soldiers and encouraging them  to take part in the war in Syria to defend Assad's regime. Velayati, a senior adviser to the Supreme Leader, underscored recently in a visit to Syria that “Iran’s red-line is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s remaining in power”.

These developments clearly show that the Iranian leaders have no interest in a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, in which  400,000 people have been killed and millions  displaced, with no end in sight. They also reveal once again that Tehran cannot be part of any solution, but is rather an integral part of fomenting the crisis.

Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of Iran's democratic opposition, the NCRI, has called on the democratic nations to act in the  face of Tehran regime's aggression, noting that “inaction in the face of [the Syrian] tragedy blemishes the record of the international community.”

Western nations  must press the Iranian regime to end its financial, logistic and military support for the Assad regime or face consequences for the escalation of the violence, with the risk of   punitive measures for responsible Iranian officials and entities.

This article first appeared in PoliticsHome