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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Chemical weapons use 'normalised' by Syria, says UK's Theresa May

Syria intervention was vital to preventing 'continued' use of chemical weapons by Al Assad regime

epa06668442 British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media during a press conference held in 10 Downing Street, central London, Britain, 14 April 2018. The press conference follows military action taken overnight by the United States, Britain and France against targets in Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack last weekend in the rebel-held suburb of Douma, east of Damascus, Syria.  EPA/WILL OLIVER / POOL
epa06668442 British Prime Minister Theresa May addresses the media during a press conference held in 10 Downing Street, central London, Britain, 14 April 2018. The press conference follows military action taken overnight by the United States, Britain and France against targets in Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack last weekend in the rebel-held suburb of Douma, east of Damascus, Syria. EPA/WILL OLIVER / POOL

Theresa May cited Syria’s persistent pattern of chemical weapons attacks on Monday as she defended British participation in the weekend strikes before putting the issue to a parliamentary vote.

Speaking to MPs, the prime minister was attempting to face down a revolt led by the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn to assert the right of the parliament to approve overseas military action.

Mrs May faced a mood significantly changed from that in 2013 when the House of Commons rebuffed David Cameron’s attempt to join Barack Obama’s proposed intervention against a poisoned gas attack in Syria. The British vote dealt a killer blow to the initiative and Mr Obama abandoned his red lines against chemical weapons use in Syria.

“We are confident in our own assessment that the Syrian regime was highly likely responsible for this attack and that its persistent pattern of behaviour meant that it was highly likely to continue using chemical weapons,” she said. “Furthermore, there were clearly attempts to block any proper investigation, as we saw with the Russian veto at the UN earlier in the week.”

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The government said its decision was driven by fear of more attacks and relied on the doctrine of humanitarian intervention in response to a state attacking its own people. “We cannot wait to alleviate further humanitarian suffering caused by chemical weapons attacks.

'It is in our national interest to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Syria — and to uphold and defend the global consensus that these weapons should not be used,” she added. “For we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised — either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.”

One of Mr Corbyn’s key legal advisers, Shami Chakrabarti said Mrs May doctrine was not globally accepted. “I don’t think that the government can demonstrate convincing evidence and a general acceptance by the international community that they had to act in the way they did a few days ago,” she said.

A significant number of Labour representatives view Mr Corbyn as dangerously close to Russia. John Woodcock, a prominent supporter of the Syria strikes, called on the leadership to address the brutality of the Syria regime, not Moscow's talking point.

“I wish my front bench would spend even a fraction of the energy on Assad and Russia’s grotesque slaughter of civilians as they are on inventing new reasons to oppose targeted UK intervention to stop it,” he said.

At a meeting of European foreign ministers, the British and French received the backing of the other countries in the bloc but there was no new announcement of sanctions against either Syria or Russia. Foreign ministers in the grouping urged continued engagement with Russia and Iran to restrain Bashar Al Assad.

Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, repeated there was no plan for more strikes at regime, much less action to depose the regime. "I'm afraid the Syrian war will go on in its horrible, miserable way. But it was the world saying that we've had enough of the use of chemical weapons," he said.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has dismissed demands from the far-Right and far-Left in the National Assembly to account for French participation. “This mandate is given democratically to the president by the people in the presidential election,” he said.

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