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Tuesday 16 September 2014

British forces prepare for military action in Syria as China warns attack would be 'dangerous and irresponsible'

Published 27/08/2013 | 10:18

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A Free Syrian Army fighter gestures as he sits on a sofa inside a room in Deir al-Zor August 26, 2013
A Free Syrian Army fighter gestures as he sits on a sofa inside a room in Deir al-Zor August 26, 2013
A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after firing towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Deir al-Zor August 26, 2013
A Free Syrian Army fighter reacts after firing towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Deir al-Zor August 26, 2013
A Free Syrian Army fighter cleans his gun as a fellow fighter watches inside a room in Deir al-Zor August 26, 2013
A Free Syrian Army fighter cleans his gun as a fellow fighter watches inside a room in Deir al-Zor August 26, 2013

Britain's armed forces are drawing up contingency plans for military action in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria, Downing Street said today.

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However, China has warned that any attack on Syria would be dangerous and irresponsible, and the world should remember the Iraq war was started by U.S. allegations of weapons of mass destruction which turned out to be false, China's official Xinhua news agency said today.

David Cameron will continue talks with international leaders to agree a "proportionate response" that will "deter" Bashar Assad's regime from using toxic agents on the Syrian population, officials said.

No 10 indicated that a decision could be taken before the results of a report by UN weapons inspectors into the attack is produced but insisted any response would adhere to international law.

A decision on whether to recall Parliament this week will be made later today, officials said.

Downing Street said all options were still on the table but insisted that no decision has been made over what form of action to take.

A spokesman said: "No decision has yet been taken. We are continuing to discuss with our international partners what the right response should be, but, as part of this, we are making contingency plans for the armed forces."

The British Prime Minister is returning early to Downing Street from a family holiday to prepare for a national security council (NSC) meeting tomorrow which will discuss possible UK involvement in using force.

But China has slammed any possible Western involvement in Syria.

Xinhua said that Western countries were rushing to conclusions about who may have used chemical weapons before U.N. inspectors had completed their investigation.

"Such rhetoric, as well as the recent flurry of consultations between Washington and its allies, indicates that they have put the arrow on the bowstring and would shoot even without a U.N. mandate," Xinhua said in an English-language commentary.

"That would be irresponsible and dangerous. For starters, the current scenario is reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq War, which the United States staged with allegations about weapons of mass destruction that later turned out to be false."

Xinhua commentaries do not carry the same weight as government statements, but they can be read as a reflection of official Chinese thinking.

British MPs are due back from their summer break next Monday but Labour and a growing number of backbench MPs from all parties - including many Tories - are demanding a chance to debate the situation more quickly.

No 10 refused to be drawn on whether any debate in Parliament would include a vote by MPs.

"We will make an announcement later today about whether or not there will be an early recall to discuss these issues.

"The Prime Minister is back in Downing Street looking at it today, but I think that, throughout, any action that is taken on the basis of the discussions that we have with our international partners and allies, that any action that is taken that we make a clear case for why that action is being taken."

Mr Cameron told international leaders, including US president Barack Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin, over recent days that any use of chemical weapons is "completely and utterly abhorrent and unacceptable" and the international community "needs to respond".

A spokesman added: "In terms of end game, this is about looking at how we deter the use of chemical weapons because this is something that is completely abhorrent and against all international law.

"This is about deterring the use of chemical weapons."

However, China warned that an attack on Syria would be dangerous and irresponsible, and the world should remember the Iraq war was started by U.S. allegations of weapons of mass destruction which turned out to be false, China's official Xinhua news agency said today.

The United States has served Syrian President Bashar al-Assad notice that it believes he was responsible for chemical weapons being used against civilians last week.

Military chiefs from the United States and its European and Middle Eastern allies have met in Jordan for what could be a council of war, should they decide to punish Assad, who has denied using chemical weapons and blamed rebels for the attacks.

China has urged all parties not to jump to conclusions about the results of the U.N. probe, and has urged calmness in dealing with the accusations.

"In the heat of the crisis, all parties concerned should keep their heads cool, especially those impatient to take military actions without a U.N. mandate," it said.

"It is imperative that the Unites States and like-minded countries refrain from hasty armed invention and let the U.N. play its due part in determining how to act accordingly."

Russia, Assad's key ally and arms supplier, says rebel forces may have been behind the attack and has urged Washington not to use military force against Assad.

Moscow and Beijing have both vetoed previous Western efforts to impose U.N. penalties on Assad.

But China has been keen to show it is not taking sides and has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change. It has said a transitional government should be formed.

Meanwhile, Syria will press on with its military efforts despite any potential foreign strikes on its territory, the foreign minister said today, adding that any strike would serve the interest of al Qaeda-linked rebel groups.

"The (government's) military effort will not stop around Damascus. If the purpose is to limit the victories of our armed forces, they will not be successful," Walid Moualem told a news conference.

 

By Sam Lister and David Hughes

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