Syria groups call for Russia World Cup boycott threat

Beirut (AFP) –


Syrian charities and rights groups Thursday called on Western leaders to threaten a boycott of the upcoming football World Cup in Russia to protest against Moscow's support for Syria's regime.

The appeal signed by 22 foreign-based organisations and addressed to the leaders of the United States, France, Germany and Britain was issued as the Syrian war entered its eighth year.

"We are calling on you as a political leader to threaten to boycott the 2018 FIFA World Cup in June hosted by Russia," said the joint statement.

The civil society organisations said such a move would pressure Russia into forcing its ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop its military campaigns.

It would "send a clear message to the country that they will face serious consequences unless they use their leverage immediately with Bashar al-Assad to make the bombings stop," the statement said.

"We want a break in sieges especially around Eastern Ghouta to allow food and medicine in," said the signatories, which included the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).

Regime and Russian warplanes have pounded the rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta, which lies just east of Damascus and is home to several hundred thousand civilians, since February 18.

More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in less than a month of fierce bombardment of Ghouta, around a fifth of them children.

A ground offensive is now underway and the enclave has been shrunk and splintered into three pockets by advancing regime and allied forces.

Russia is hosting its first ever football World Cup in June and July.

Thursday's appeal was issued on the seventh anniversary of the conflict that broke out with the government's crackdown of peaceful protests in 2011.