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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Britain readies submarines for possible Syria action

Prime Minister Theresa May has called an emergency meeting of her cabinet for Thursday afternoon

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is contemplating moving submarines within range of Syria. EPA
UK Prime Minister Theresa May is contemplating moving submarines within range of Syria. EPA

Prime Minister Theresa May has moved Britain closer to taking military action against Syria, saying it looked like President Bashar Al Assad’s forces were behind a chemical weapons attack.

Mrs May called an emergency meeting of her cabinet for Thursday afternoon, a move that suggests she could decide to sidestep parliamentary approval for military strikes.

That came after reports that Mr Al Assad has started moving his arsenal away from air bases that are likely to be targeted.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper said the prime minister has already ordered submarines to move within missile range of the country.

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Read more:

White House: no final decision has been made on Syria

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Mrs May said earlier Wednesday that the government was still assessing who was responsible for the attack on Douma. Britain has been working with its allies to determine what happened, and "we are rapidly reaching that understanding", she said during a visit to the English city of Birmingham.

"All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible," Mrs May said.

"And we will be working with our closest allies on how we can ensure that those who are responsible are held to account and how we can prevent and deter the humanitarian catastrophe that comes from the use of chemical weapons in the future."

The United States, France and Britain have been consulting about launching a military strike within days. President Donald Trump tweeted on Wednesday that missiles “will be coming”, although the language from the White House later in the day was more circumspect.

Mrs May has not confirmed whether Britain will participate directly but she said: "The continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged."

She also condemned Russia for vetoing a UN security council resolution calling for a new group to determine responsibility for the attack, saying it meant "there can be no role now for investigations by the United Nations".

Mrs May is not legally required to get parliament’s backing for military action, though it is conventional for lawmakers to be given the chance to vote. Britain’s parliament is in recess until Monday, but it could be recalled for an emergency debate.

In 2013, the British parliament defeated a call by then prime minister David Cameron for air strikes in response to an earlier chemical attack in Syria.

Some MPs have expressed reservations about taking military action, but others have come to believe the 2013 vote was a mistake.

Labour MP Emma Reynolds, whose party helped defeat Mr Cameron's planned 2013 strike, said failing to act then had set a "dangerous precedent".