UK's May says Syria chemical weapons can't go unchallenged

Sergio Conner
April 16, 2018

Theresa May will convene a "war cabinet" on Thursday in order to seek pre-approval for the United Kingdom to join a tripartite attack on the Syrian regime in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons.

"This persistent pattern of behaviour must be stopped - not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons but also because we can not allow the erosion of the worldwide norm that prevents the use of these weapons".

Speaking from the White House on Friday, president Donald Trump announced the military action, and said its intention was to degrade Syrian chemical weapons capabilities.

Mr Trump said the joint strikes against the Syrian regime were "perfectly executed". "No other group could have carried this attack", May said.

May's office said in a statement that the Cabinet judged it "highly likely" the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind the chemical attack last weekend in the town of Douma. The United States responded with 58 missile strikes that destroyed 20% of the Syrian airforce.

May said the aim was to deter the Syrian regime authorities from further use of chemical weapons and to send a message to the wider world that it was unacceptable to use such weapons.

Russian Federation has blocked moves for a United Nations investigation into the Douma attack and even made the "grotesque and absurd claim that it was staged by Britain", May said.

Britain's defense ministry said "very careful scientific analysis" had been applied to maximize the destruction of stockpiled chemicals while minimizing any risk of contamination to surrounding areas.

"The facility which was struck is located some distance from any known concentrations of civilian habitation, reducing yet further any such risk", it added.

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, US ambassador Nikki Haley warned if there was further use of chemical weapons in Syria, America is "locked and loaded".

Britain has accused Russia of being behind last month's nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, southern England, a charge Moscow has rejected.

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"We have sought to use every possible diplomatic channel to achieve this".

May doesn't have a majority in Parliament, but the Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up her government, said it backed her actions.

Formally, the prime minister has the right to go to war without approval from parliament, but a convention has been established in previous conflicts where MPs have a vote either before or shortly after military action begins.

Mrs May has faced criticism from across the political spectrum for failing to recall Parliament and put the plans to a vote.

"Any possible action will only cause more instability in the region and threaten global security and peace", Syrian state TV quoted Assad as saying at a meeting Thursday with a high-level Iranian delegation in Damascus.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, striking a cautious tone after Mr Trump's threat of missile strikes, said on Wednesday the United States was still assessing intelligence about the suspected toxic gas attack.

The U.S., France and Britain have been consulting about launching a military strike, but the timing and scale of any action remain unclear.

"Bombs won't save lives or bring about peace", he said.

Both Jeremy Corbyn and the SNP have insisted the Prime Minister must not use the Royal Prerogative to give the green light to military action without parliamentary approval. May was more equivocal when asked if this was still Britain's policy, saying her goal was simply to stop the use of chemical weapons.

The military action, which might start within hours of Cabinet approval, would be led by France and the U.S. and be aimed at Syrian president Bashar al Assad's chemical weapons infrastructure, Sky reported.

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