In Brief

UK suspends Syria aid programme amid questions over funds ‘paid to jihadis’

BBC claims cash earmarked for civilian police force was handed to extremists

The UK has suspended a foreign aid project to support community policing in Syria amid claims that money paid to a Syrian contractor was then handed to jihadist extremists.

A BBC Panorama investigation claims that British taxpayers’ cash was diverted to Islamic militants and that officers from a UK-backed police force in Syria worked with courts carrying out brutal sentences.

Adam Smith International, the British company running the project, says only $1,800 (£1,330) of $20m (£15m) in funding unwittingly fell into the hands of Free Syrian Police force members linked to extremists, and that the cash was not British money but rather from other state donors, The Observer reports. 

The suspension of the project comes as Russian jets bombed residential areas in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, killing at least 27 people and injuring dozens more, according to Reuters. At least 193 civilians, including 44 children, have died in three weeks of Syrian government raids and artillery fire on the area, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

“Three weeks of ferocious bombardment of Syria’s Eastern Ghouta have crushed illusions of a lasting truce in the rebel enclave, which Damascus appears determined to recapture at all costs,” the Daily Mail says.

An estimated 400,000 people have been killed since the country’s civil war began in 2011, according to a CNN report in October.

The Eastern Ghouta region “has been besieged by army troops since 2013 in an attempt to force the rebel enclave to submission”, Reuters says.

The UN says a further 400,000 civilians in the region now face “complete catastrophe” because aid deliveries by the Syrian government have been blocked, while hundreds of people who need urgent medical evacuation have not been allowed outside the enclave, reports Abu Dhabi-based news service The National.

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