May mulls Syria action despite cautious mood in UK

Frederick Owens
April 16, 2018

Officials also said that the USA has compiled intelligence from the US and other countries, including images, that indicate the Syrian government was behind the weekend attack.

The White Helmets, a Syrian civil defense agency, blamed the Assad regime for the Saturday night chemical attack in the city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, which it said killed 78 civilians and injured hundreds of others.

Britain continues to support the US-led coalition targeting IS jihadists in Iraq and Syria, and has conducted more than 1,700 strikes.

At the House hearing, Democrats grilled Mattis on the wisdom and legality of Trump ordering an attack on Syria without explicit authorization from Congress. Mattis argued it would be justified as an act of self-defense, with 2,000 US ground troops in Syria; he insisted he could not talk about military plans because an attack "is not yet in the offing".

President Donald Trump on Thursday softened his rhetoric about potential airstrikes on Syria, a day after warning Russian Federation that missiles "will be coming, nice and new and 'smart'".

Although Mr. Mattis noted that military action carried risks, he also emphasised that Syrian use of chemical weapons should not be tolerated.

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.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said it is "vital that parliament has the chance to debate and decide in advance" of any military action, which he warned "risks a unsafe escalation of the conflict".

The French president does not need parliamentary permission to launch a military operation.

"Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime", a spokeswoman for the prime minister said in a statement after the meeting. "We need to know where that's going, what the goal of it is before we take that act".

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Asked about the risks of USA military retaliation, Mattis cited two concerns, starting with avoiding civilian casualties.

Echoing the U.S. stance, France's Ambassador Francois Delattre said Assad's government had reached a "point of no return" with repeated use of chemical weapons.

The White House and National Security Council did not immediately respond to Anadolu Agency's requests for comment on the report.

After meeting for more than two hours, the Cabinet gave May the green light to join the USA and France in planning possible strikes, but also left open the possibility of other responses.

Japan will only support U.S. President Donald Trump's "resolve" to prevent any further use of chemical weapons in Syria, the sources said.

But rival politicians and some Conservative colleagues have called for a parliamentary vote before any British involvement.

May is not obliged to win parliament's approval, but a non-binding constitutional convention to do so has been established since a 2003 vote on joining the USA -led invasion of Iraq.

A separate YouGov survey on Thursday found 61 percent of people think it would be necessary for parliament to vote on military action against Syria, with just 18 percent saying it was not necessary and 21 percent undecided.

The statement made no specific reference to military action.

Britain has launched air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, but not against the country's government.

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