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RAF jets ready to strike after MPs overwhelmingly back taking fight to Isis's backyard

By Staff Reporters

RAF bombers were scrambled to join an international effort against Islamic State in Syria last night within hours of the House of Commons giving the green light for the move.

MPs engaged in a marathon 10-hour debate before agreeing to back air strikes against IS.

Prime Minister David Cameron said politicians took the "right decision to keep the UK safe" after they overwhelmingly backed attacks against the terror group in Syria.

"I believe the House has taken the right decision to keep the UK safe - military action in Syria as one part of a broader strategy," he added.

MPs voted by 397 to 223 - a majority of 174 - in favour of extending British action against IS from Iraq into its Syrian strongholds.

Some 66 Labour MPs voted with the Government, while seven Conservatives opposed the plans for military action.

The Government has said bombing raids will begin "as soon as is practical".

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he would not give a "running commentary" on operations, having earlier suggested bombings could begin as early as Thursday. But eight bombers are on standby at the RAF Akrotiri air base in Cyprus.

While noisy anti-war protests roared outside the Palace of Westminster, the epic debate saw fierce clashes between the Prime Minister and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn before 104 contributions from the backbenches.

Labour MPs, granted a free vote following an acrimonious party split over bombing raids, were sharply divided as 66 MPs backed the Government, while 152 filed through the No lobby with Mr Corbyn. MPs in the shadow cabinet split 16-11 against bombing, with one member abstaining.

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn threw a spotlight on the division after he won applause and cheers across the Commons after a speech advocating military action. Mr Corbyn sat with his arms crossed hours after urging MPs to say no to bombing.

Seven Tory MPs defied David Cameron's orders to support bombing and voted against the Government motion.

Following the MPs' positive vote, Royal Air Force Tornado jets could launch bombing raids from the Akrotiri base on Cyprus within hours.

Making his case, Mr Cameron insisted that Britain must decide whether to take on the "evil" of so-called Islamic State in its Syrian heartlands or "wait for them to attack us".

The Prime Minister also repeatedly refused to apologise for branding anti-war Labour MPs "terrorist sympathisers", but insisted that he respects those who voted against military action.

He sought to head off criticisms of his case for action, admitting that the 70,000 so-called moderate Syrian rebels were not all ideal partners, but saying he was prepared to work with them and insisting that Britain's precision weapons would lead to fewer civilian casualties.

Mr Cameron told MPs: "These women-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters, they are hijacking the peaceful religion of Islam for their warped ends."

But Labour leader Mr Corbyn said air strikes would "almost inevitably lead to the deaths of innocents" and accused the PM of rushing a Commons vote through before public opinion turns against military action.

Mr Corbyn questioned whether air strikes would contribute to a peaceful settlement for Syria and warned that they could increase the possibility of terror attacks in Britain.

He said: "Do we send in bombers, not totally aware of what all the consequences are going to be, or do we pause, not send them in, and instead put all of our efforts into bringing about a peaceful, humanitarian and just political settlement faced by the people in Syria?"

SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson spearheaded a wrecking amendment which could have doomed Mr Cameron's plans, telling MPs the Prime Minister's case fell down on the "vital" aspect of whether there were enough ground forces to take and hold IS territory.

Amid dissent on the Conservative benches, former leadership contender David Davis said Turkey and Saudi Arabia should meet their responsibilities as allies of the coalition against Isis.

He added: "If we want to do something straight away, which will take more than several squadrons of aircraft, (we) get our allies to do their job."

And Defence committee chair Julian Lewis mocked Mr Cameron's case for war, saying: "Instead of having dodgy dossiers, we now have bogus battalions of moderate fighters."

Belfast Telegraph


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