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14 April 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:23pm

UK joins US and France in airstrikes against the Assad regime

Russia warns of “consequences” and Corbyn speaks out after jets hit targets in Syria.

By Julia Rampen

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has condemned a series of air strikes by British, French and US forces on targets in Syria.

“Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace,” Corbyn said in a statement, calling the strikes, which were undertaken without a vote in Parliament, “legally questionable” and saying that they risk escalating the conflict further. “Britain should be playing a leadership role to bring about a ceasefire in the conflict, not taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm’s way.”

In the early hours of Saturday morning prime minister Theresa May confirmed that she authorised British armed forces to conduct strikes co-ordinated with France and the US against the Assad regime. The object of the strikes, May said, is to “degrade” the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability, after reports that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against the population of a rebel-held area.

In a statement the Prime Minister said: “In Douma, last Saturday a chemical weapons attack killed up to 75 people, including young children, in circumstances of pure horror. The fact of this attack should surprise no-one. The Syrian Regime has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way.”

There was a “significant body of information” pointing to the regime, she added. The UK had pursued diplomatic means to prevent the use of such weapons, she said, but had been continually thwarted, most recently this week when the Russians vetoed a Resolution at the UN Security Council which would have established an independent investigation into the Douma attack.

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Fire lit up the night sky near Damascus as missiles struck on the outskirts of the city. According to US authorities, the target was a research facility that had been used to develop chemical weapons. Two other strikes hit chemical weapons storage facilities, general Joseph Dunford, the chair of the US joint chiefs of staff, told reporters Friday after president Trump gave a brief statement announcing the strikes.

Trump singled out Russia for specific criticism in his statement. “In 2013 President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. Assad’s recent attack and today’s response are the direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise” Trump said. “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilised nations as a force for stability and peace.Hopefully some day we’ll get along with Russia and maybe even with Iran.”

“But maybe not,” the President added.

It is unclear whether Russia, whose government supports the Assad regime, was forewarned of the strike specifically, though Trump had tweeted during the week that missiles were “coming”. Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the US, said darkly on Friday that “such actions will not be left without consequences.”

May sought to downplay parallels to British intervention in Iraq and Libya, saying: “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.ust defend the global rules and standards that keep us all safe.”

The prospect of airstrikes has been clear since Donald Trump released a series of tweets, one of which referred to Bashar al-Assad as a “Gas Killing Animal”.

US defence secretary James Mattis said that if Assad does not use chemical weapons again then the strikes would be a “one-time shot”.

But president Donald Trump appeared to have regime change in mind, hitting out at Assad in his speech from the White House announcing the strikes. “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead,” Trump said.

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