UK's May calls Syria strikes 'in our national interest'

Government has right to act without consulting parliament, British premier says as opposition leader slams UK intervention

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON (AA) - The U.K.’s military intervention in Syria was clearly “in our national interest to prevent the further use of chemical weapons in Syria”, Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday.

May said the U.K. is “confident in our own assessment that the Syrian regime was highly likely responsible for this attack and that its persistent pattern of behaviour meant that it was highly likely to continue using chemical weapons”.

Her remarks came as she briefed lawmakers at the House of Commons about the weekend airstrikes held with the U.S. and France, which targeted the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities.

“For we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised -- either within Syria, on the streets of the U.K. or elsewhere,” May said.

“The images of this suffering are utterly haunting.

“Innocent families -- seeking shelter in underground bunkers -- found dead with foam in their mouths, burns to their eyes and their bodies surrounded by a chlorine-like odour.

“Children gasping for life as chemicals choked their lungs.

"The fact that such an atrocity can take place in our world today is a stain on our humanity.”

May underlined that “a significant body of information -- including intelligence -- indicates the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack”.

- Opposition leader slams May

She said: “Open source accounts state that barrel bombs were used to deliver the chemicals. Barrel bombs are usually delivered by helicopters. Multiple open source reports and intelligence indicates that regime helicopters operated over Douma on the evening of 7th April, shortly before reports emerged in social media of a chemical attack. And the Syrian military officials coordinated what appears to be the use of chlorine weapons."

“No other group could have carried out this attack,” she added.

The prime minister also pointed out that reports on the latest chemical weapons attack in Douma were “consistent with previous regime attacks. These include the attack on 21st August 2013 where over 800 people were killed and thousands more injured in a chemical attack also in Ghouta.”

“Based on the regime’s persistent pattern of behaviour and the cumulative analysis of specific incidents we judged it highly likely that the Syrian regime had continued to use chemical weapons on at least four occasions since the attack in Khan Sheikhoun. And we judged that they would have continued to do so,” she said.

May said the government had to act urgently and it has the right to act without consulting parliament.

“We cannot go back to a world where the use of chemical weapons will be normalized,” she added.

Meanwhile, the opposition leader from the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, criticized May for not seeking a parliamentary approval before joining the airstrike against the Assad regime.

"This statement serves as a reminder that the prime minister is accountable to this parliament, not to the whims of the U.S. president,” Corbyn said.

"We clearly need a War Powers Act in this country to transform a now broken convention into a legal obligation,” he said, adding: “The action is legally questionable.”

- Watchdog probe hindered

May responded to Corbyn's criticism by saying the government had published the legal basis for intervention.

It was justified to "alleviate humanitarian suffering," and that argument had been "used by governments of both parties in the past".

May said the chemical weapons watchdog OPCW was being stopped from carrying out an investigation in Douma and there were wider efforts to disrupt the investigation.

A poll by Sky Data also on Monday revealed that 49 percent of British public thought the U.K. was right to carry out a military intervention in Syria. The same poll said people were split equally in answering whether the government was right not to seek permission from the parliament prior to the airstrikes jointly held with the U.S. and France.

More than 390 allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria have been recorded by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) since 2014, the British envoy to the group said earlier Monday.

“The Syrian regime has an abhorrent record of using chemical weapons against its own people,” said Peter Wilson, adding that the use of chemical weapons “has become an all-too-regular weapon of war in the Syrian conflict”.

The statement came during a OPCW Executive Council Meeting following joint weekend airstrikes by the U.S., U.K., and France on reported Assad regime chemical weapons facilities in Syria.

Pointing to some of the evidence known to the OPCW council, Wilson said: “The OPCW has recorded more than 390 allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria since the fact-finding mission was established in 2014.”

He said: “The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism has found Syria responsible for using chemical weapons on four occasions between 2014-2017, including chlorine and sarin."

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