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DUP set to back airstrikes in Syria after David Cameron insists Isis is the only target

By Liam Clarke

The DUP is poised to back air strikes in Syria after David Cameron gave an "absolute assurance" he backed the party's conditions for intervention.

The Prime Minister urged MPs to protect the public by supporting bombing as he set out a strategy in the Commons.

The backing from Mr Cameron, who may need the party's support in any vote, came in reply to a question from North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds.

The DUP man had said: "We know from experience the consequences of appeasing and indulging terrorism for too long. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the action foreshadowed today is against Isil terrorists and nobody else?"

Mr Dodds told Mr Cameron the key issues for the DUP were "an effective overall strategy, the targeting of terrorists, and that there is an end point". "We stand ready to do what is in the best interests of our security," he added. "If it protects our people here and abroad, we must act."

Mr Cameron replied: "I can give him the absolute assurance that what we are talking about here is action against Isil, not action against anybody else. I completely agree with him on being clear about strategy, clear about targeting and clear about what we are trying to achieve."

The Government has a majority of just 17, leaving it vulnerable to rebellions or absences when the vote on bombing Syria is taken in the coming weeks. At that point DUP MPs could become very important.

Earlier Mr Dodds and his colleague Jeffrey Donaldson were given a briefing from the National Security Council.

After the debate Mr Dodds savaged Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who wrote to his MPs telling them he could not support air strikes on Syria.

The DUP deputy leader said: "We already have our answer about the leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor. There has been no enemy of Britain's they haven't defended, no cause of this country they haven't denigrated, no security service they haven't scorned.

"These men are unfit to oppose, and their opposition to action doesn't stem from the sincere scruples I, or my colleagues, or the Foreign Affairs Committee, share. It's the petulant, putrid response of the irresponsible revolutionary bedsit they barely seem to have clambered out of."

Mr Dodds also suggested that people were slow to support attacks because of past mistakes under Labour. "There is a case for our using force to stop the monsters before they get any closer to us," he added. "But the Prime Minister and Chancellor need to realise that past foreign policy failures they have supported have had their inevitable sapping result. The end result of intervening where we should not is that there is little public or professional support for doing so when we should."

Also in the Commons, Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan suggested his party's support for air strikes would depend on certain criteria being met.

Mr Kinahan, who was in the Army for eight years in the Blues and Royals, rising to the rank of captain and serving in the Falklands, Cyprus, Germany, Northern Ireland and Windsor, added: "The threat posed by Isis to the security of the UK, the lives of our citizens, to the lives of many, many people across the world and to democracy in the Middle East, must be the key consideration for those who will be required to vote on any action. We have been clear that we could not support action in Syria without achievable outcomes or an exit strategy. We have seen the cost of that both in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent times.

"However, we have said that it would be reasonable to consider targeted action as part of a wider coalition response. The points set out in the Prime Minister's statement today give us much to consider. We look forward to the motion from the Prime Minister to assess if our criteria for military action in Syria has been met."

However, Foyle MP Mark Durkan recalled how Mr Cameron had stressed that the Isis-first strategy could not extend to intervention as an Assad ally.

"He said that an intervention on such terms would be wrong on three grounds: it would misunderstand the causes of the problem; it would make matters worse; and Assad's rule is one of Isil's greatest recruiting sergeants," Mr Durkan added. "We do not want to feed the evil that we want to defeat."

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