PM waiting for US instructions, claims Labour as it warns against Syria strikes
Russia claims the suspected chemical attack was fabricated.
Bombing Syria will not help the war-torn country, Labour has insisted as it accused Theresa May of “waiting for instructions” from US President Donald Trump on how to handle the crisis.
The comments came as Russia claimed a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma last weekend was fabricated with the help of an unspecified foreign intelligence agency.
The Douma attack has drawn international outrage which has seen the Prime Minister and Mr Trump agree that the use of chemical weapons must not go unchallenged after Mrs May won the backing of her Cabinet for action to prevent their further use in Syria.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was scathing about the PM’s stance, stating: “Further UK military intervention in Syria’s appalling multi-sided war risks escalating an already devastating conflict.
“The Government appears to be waiting for instructions from President Donald Trump on how to proceed. But the US administration is giving alarmingly contradictory signals.
“Even US defence secretary James Mattis has said we ‘don’t have evidence’ and warned further military action could ‘escalate out of control’.”
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Russian experts have inspected the site of the alleged attack in Douma, just east of Damascus, and found no trace of chemical weapons.
He said Moscow has “irrefutable information that it was another fabrication”.
Russia’s ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko told a London press conference that the US and its allies had provided “no tangible proof” to back up claims the Syrian government was responsible for the Douma attack.
He said: “The Syrian government had been repeatedly warning for at least a month that rebels prepared to stage a provocation with chemical weapons in this very area.”
Mr Yakovenko added: “We are witnessing very dangerous developments in Syria. The current US politics, supported almost mechanically by France and the UK, is becoming a threat to the peace and security in the region and beyond.”
Mrs May and the US president discussed the situation on Thursday night, saying there was a need “to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime”, as they pledged to work together on the international response to the suspected chemical weapons attack.
Further UK military intervention in Syria's appalling multi-sided war risks escalating an already devastating conflict.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) April 13, 2018
My full statement: https://t.co/wWpxxk8eYI
Ministers have said it is “highly likely” Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for the attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma which reportedly left dozens dead and that there was agreement around the Cabinet table that such actions should not go “unchallenged”.
Mrs May and Mr Trump spoke hours after this meeting and reiterated the use of chemical weapons should not be tolerated.
The largest US air and naval strike force since the 2003 Iraq war was said to be heading towards Syria, according to reports in The Times, paving the way for strikes within the next three days.
Russia has been granted a request for the United Nations Security Council to meet on Friday for fresh discussions on the threat to international peace from air strikes on Syria.
A statement released by Downing Street after Thursday’s Cabinet meeting made no direct reference to military action, but will be seen as a signal Britain would be prepared to join any US-led air strikes against the regime should the Americans decide to go ahead – putting it on a potential collision course with Assad’s principal backer Russia.
In a statement released on Thursday night, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister spoke to President Trump about Syria this evening.
“They agreed that the Assad regime had established a pattern of dangerous behaviour in relation to the use of chemical weapons.
“They agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged, and on the need to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.
Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
“They agreed to keep working closely together on the international response.”
Earlier, Mr Trump appeared to row back from a suggestion on Wednesday that missile strikes were imminent, insisting in his latest tweet that he had never set out a timetable for military action.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” he wrote.
US broadcaster NBC quoted US officials familiar with the intelligence as saying they had now obtained blood and urine samples which had tested positive for chemical weapons.
It is vital that parliament has the chance to debate and decide in advance on any government proposals to support a new US-led military intervention in Syria, which risks a dangerous escalation of the conflict.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) April 12, 2018
That assessment appeared to echo French President Emmanuel Macron, who said France had “proof” that “at least chlorine” was used in the attack by the regime.
The White House said it was still assessing the evidence after its security council meeting on Thursday.
The post-Cabinet meeting statement made no reference to whether Parliament would be given a say on military action – prompting renewed concerns among opposition parties and some Tory MPs that Mrs May is prepared to go ahead without a Commons vote.
Mr Corbyn insisted that MPs were entitled to a vote, saying Parliament “must be consulted”.
A team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is due to start its investigation in Syria on Saturday.
On Friday campaigners from the Stop the War Coalition will hand in a letter signed by MPs, trade unionists, celebrities and academics to Downing Street urging Mrs May to not take military action in Syria.