We are now standing at thesidelines of a massive crisis

I don't think anyone could have been failed to be moved by the impassioned messages being posted on social media from inside Aleppo last week.

Monday, 19th December 2016, 6:01 am
FILE -- In This April 21, 2014, file photo, provided by the anti-government activist group Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian man holding a girl as he stands on the rubble of houses that were destroyed by Syrian government forces air strikes in Aleppo, Syria. The implosion of diplomatic talks with Russia has left the Obama administration with a series of bad options for what to do next in Syria. Despite harrowing scenes of violence in Aleppo and beyond, President Barack Obama is unlikely to approve any risky new strategy before handing the civil war over to his successor early next year.(AP Photo/Aleppo Media Center AMC, File) YPN-161210-081432060

Even reading them or watching them flash up on the telly in the sanitised and safe environment of our own homes doesn’t lessen the sense of despair coming through.

These are people who have been helplessly trapped by a merciless war being fought by two brutal and totally unyielding sides.

I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading about the war in Syria, about the politics behind who we’re supporting and why, about how fighters aligned with Al Qaida of 9/11 fame apparently now have our support because they’re rebels and at least they’re not ISIL.

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Trying to make sense of the whys and wherefores of who we’re helping and why is for people more intelligent and knowledgeable to explain, not for me to attempt to do here.

But as we enter the Christmas week, and the images of people trying desperately to save their own lives continue to be beamed into our living rooms and on our smartphones, it somehow doesn’t matter.

We’ve never before been able to hear directly from people who are in the midst of a missile attack.

We’ve never before been able to speak to them or show them we care and want to try to help.

Later this week, as our crackers go bang, we could be reading about the thuds of the bombs as they fall.

We’ve had to rely on the war correspondents like Kate Adie and Robert Fisk to tell us their stories and we had to trust they got it right.

It was they who inspired me to be a reporter, wanting like them to stand unflappable as hell rained down upon them.

We still need them to make sense of what we can see for ourselves, to filter out the noise and try to bring us some sort of truth.

And that truth is that we are standing at the sidelines of a disaster, a crisis of global proportions that, in this uncertain world, will affect all of us in ways we cannot predict.


It’s about time the unions backed off Southern Rail.

The only people being punished for the train operator’s ‘modernisation’ programme to get rid of conductors – something it says it’s been doing for the past 30 years – are the passengers.

Southern Rail is hardly blameless in the way it operates its service, with these strikes being prefaced with cancelled, late and overcrowded trains.

As an operator, the reputation of ‘Britain’s worst rail line’ has got to count when it comes time to re-award the contract to run it.

For now, though, all that remains is an argument about who pushes the close-door button and a will to force Southern Rail’s parent company, Govia Thameslink Railway, out of business.


As some of you might have seen, January 2 will be my final column for The News.

It’s been a fun five years, writing about all sorts of things I’ve hoped are interesting, amusing, infuriating and ultimately relevant to the people who read this in the paper, online at portsmouth.co.uk or via the app.

Now it’s time to let someone else have a go.

So how about it?

To apply, please write a column consisting of three elements – one of 350 words and two of 120 each – and e-mail it with your name, address and daytime contact number, plus a short biography and photo, to [email protected] Or you can send it in to Simon Toft, The News, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Western Road, Portsmouth, PO6 3EN.