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PM on Syria: Use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged

Theresa May said ‘all the indications’ are that the Syrian regime was behind a chemical attack on its own people.


Theresa May spoke about the situation in Syria on a visit to Birmingham (Joe Giddens/PA)

Theresa May spoke about the situation in Syria on a visit to Birmingham (Joe Giddens/PA)

Theresa May spoke about the situation in Syria on a visit to Birmingham (Joe Giddens/PA)

Theresa May has said “all the indications” are that the Syrian regime was behind a chemical attack on its own people as the United States prepares to launch air strikes.

The Prime Minister did not indicate whether Britain will be involved in the military campaign but insisted continued attacks “cannot go unchallenged” as she pledged to continue working with the UK’s “closest allies” on how the dictatorship is held to account.

Donald Trump warned on Wednesday that airstrikes are imminent in Syria, declaring missiles “will be coming”.

Bashar Assad’s regime has called the threats “reckless” and Moscow said dropping missiles would destroy evidence of a chemical attack.

Mrs May said: “All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible 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 continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged.”

The Prime Minister sidestepped questions over whether she was concerned about the US president’s tweet.

She told reporters during a visit to Birmingham that she was “appalled” but “not surprised” by Russia’s decision to veto a draft resolution at the United Nations on Tuesday which sought to create a new body to determine responsibility for the attack.

“There can be no role now for investigations by the United Nations,” Mrs May said.

She faces pressure to secure support from the Commons, which is currently in recess for Easter, for involving Britain in air strikes but has the power to take the decision without the backing of MPs.

Russia has warned against military action and said it will shoot down rockets fired at its ally.

In a tweet responding to the threat, President Trump said: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria.

“Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart’. You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

Soon afterwards, however, he suggested it was time to “stop the arms race” and said there was no reason for the low in relations between Russia and the US.

He tweeted: “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this.

“Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”

Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkinhad, warned that the federation’s military will shoot down US rockets and “even the sources that launched the missiles”.

Mr Trump’s decision to announce in highly inflammatory language on Twitter that missile strikes are imminent, rather than retaining an element of surprise, will raise eyebrows among military chiefs.

Soon after the tweets, Russia’s foreign ministry said that “smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not legal government”.

Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova questioned whether the idea behind military action was to “use the smart missiles to sweep the traces of the provocation under the rug”.

General Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of Joint Forces Command, said Russia’s warnings that launch platforms could be targeted in response to air strikes meant “they are going to try and sink ships, sink submarines and shoot aircraft out of the sky – that’s war”.

Former soldier Johnny Mercer, who sits on the Commons Defence Select Committee, said Britain played a calming role as he criticised the “unhelpful rhetoric” tweeted by the US president.

The attack in Douma happened late on Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce with the Army of Islam rebel group.

Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said poison gas was used on the rebel-held town near the capital, an allegation strongly denied by the Assad government.

Families were reportedly found suffocated in their homes and shelters, with foam on their mouths.

Reports suggested that more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were taken to medical centres with breathing problems, foaming at the mouth and with burning sensations in the eyes.

It comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people.

That assault prompted the US to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.

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