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David Cameron to set out 'comprehensive' anti-IS strategy

Published 23/11/2015

One of the anti-terror operations in the centre of Brussels (AP)
One of the anti-terror operations in the centre of Brussels (AP)

David Cameron has promised to set out a "comprehensive" strategy for tackling Islamic State (IS) on Thursday that will include British air strikes on the terrorists' bases in Syria.

The Prime Minister confirmed he would be coming to parliament to "make the case" for wider military action after holding talks with French president Francois Hollande in the wake of the attacks on Paris.

Unveiling the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to MPs, Mr Cameron said IS - also known as Isil, Isis or Daesh - was "not some remote problem thousands of miles away".

"It has already taken the lives of British hostages and carried out the worst attack against British people since 7/7 on the beaches of Tunisia, t o say nothing of the seven terrorist plots right here in Britain that have been foiled by our security services over the past year," he said.

"On Thursday I will come to this House and make a further statement responding personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I will make the case for Britain to join our international allies in going after Isil in their headquarters in Syria, not just in Iraq.

"I will explain how such action would be one element of a comprehensive and long term strategy to defeat Isil in parallel with major international effort to bring an end to the war in Syria."

Standing alongside Mr Hollande in the Elysee Palace earlier, Mr Cameron said: "The United Kingdom will do all in our power to support our friend and ally France to defeat this evil death cult.

"I firmly support the action that President Hollande has taken to strike Isil in Syria and it is my firm conviction that Britain should do so too."

Mr Cameron said he had offered the French air force the use of RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus to mount strikes on IS as well as RAF air-to-air refuelling support.

Mr Hollande welcomed the British support and said it was essential to strike IS in its heartlands in Syria.

"France has taken the decision last September. It is up to the United Kingdom how it can commit and operate," he said.

"We will intensify our strikes, we will choose the targets that yield the best possible damage against the terrorist army."

In London, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon indicated the Government would not move to an immediate Commons vote after Mr Cameron's statement responding to the recent Foreign Affairs Committee report on military intervention in Syria.

He reaffirmed that ministers would only go to the House once they were sure there was a majority in favour of military action.

"There are a lot of new MPs and we have to make our case to them. Understandably they want to be sure that there is a political track to this as well," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But with signs that a growing number of Labour MPs are prepared to ignore the objections of party leader Jeremy Corbyn and support the Government, ministers appear increasingly confident they can win a vote.

Following Friday's vote at the United Nations Security Council calling for renewed action against IS, shadow defence secretary Maria Eagle suggested Mr Corbyn could change his mind and vote in favour.

She told the Today programme: "My understanding is he is not a pacifist and that means that it is conceivable."

The Democratic Unionists are also believed to support air strikes, although the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman Alex Salmond said his party was yet to be convinced.

"There's no shortage of people bombing Syria at the present moment. What there is a shortage of is a coherent policy to bring about peace in Syria in a rapid time-scale," he told BBC Two's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

In Paris, Mr Cameron and Mr Hollande paid an emotional visit to the Bataclan concert hall, where scores of people were killed in the terrorist onslaught 10 days ago.

In their talks afterwards, both men stressed the need for improved security and intelligence-sharing across the EU to counter the threat from extremists returning to Europe after fighting in Syria and Iraq.

"This requires a pan-European effort. We need a stronger external EU border to protect our security more effectively," Mr Cameron said.

Meanwhile Belgian police arrested 16 people in a major anti-terror operation, but on-the-run Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam remains at large, a federal prosecutor said.

No arms or explosives were found in 19 raids across Brussels - including the Molenbeek area from where the Paris attack was planned - or two in Charleroi, they said.

The city remains on high alert over fears of a Paris-style IS attack. Schools, universities and the underground system will remain closed and some workers have been advised to stay at home while key suspects remain at large.

Mr Cameron said the visit to the Bataclan was "extremely moving", and he vowed the attacks would strengthen the resolve of the international community to tackle IS.

Speaking at RAF Northolt after returning from Paris, he said: "It was extremely moving to stand outside the Bataclan theatre, the venue, and to think how many young people out having a night out died in those tragic events.

"I think it actually will bring Britain and France and the world together in defence of our values and recognising that we will never let these people beat us, indeed we will come together and make sure that we beat them."

Mr Cameron said the UK would use "everything we have got" to defeat IS, requiring "diplomatic resources, political resources, development resources but, yes, military resources too".

He said: "It's in our national interest that we degrade and destroy this dreadful organisation and the terror that it has brought down against not just French citizens in Paris or Russian citizens over the Sinai desert, but also against British citizens in Tunisia and here in the UK.

"We have to defeat this evil."

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has denied that the threat to London has increased. Responding to questions on Twitter, the mayor said: "London is as safe as it was before the Paris attacks. School trips should go ahead."

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