Syria crisis: UK draws up contingency military plans

The body of a victim of a suspected chemical weapons attack is lowered into a grave in Hamoria, Damascus (21 August 2013) The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons and blames rebel fighters

The UK is drawing up contingency plans for military action in response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, Downing Street has said.

No 10 stressed any action would be "proportionate", lawful and follow agreement with international allies.

David Cameron will also announce later whether Parliament is to be recalled, amid growing pressure from MPs.

A chemical attack is reported to have taken place on Wednesday near Damascus, killing more than 300 people.

Syrian rebels say the Assad government was responsible, but Syria's foreign minister Walid Moualem said on Tuesday this was a "total lie" and accused the US of using it as an "inaccurate excuse" to intervene in the two-year military conflict in the country.

'International law'

Mr Cameron has returned to London, having cut short his summer holiday to deal with the crisis.

A No 10 spokesman said the UK was considering a "proportionate response" to the attack and was considering a "range of evidence" including that from UN weapons inspectors who visited five sites around Damascus on Monday.


Whitehall officials say no firm decision is likely to be taken on how Britain will respond to last week's alleged chemical attack in Syria until at least Wednesday.

That is when David Cameron will be chairing a session of the National Security Council, attended by military and intelligence chiefs and senior ministers. It follows intense consultations between London and Washington, with Downing Street keen to stress the two countries are acting in concert.

Any military response, if it's decided on, is most likely to be confined to a one-off or limited guided missile strikes on selected Syrian military targets using Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from US Navy warships stationed hundreds of miles away in the eastern Mediterranean.

US vessels there are reported to have about 400 such missiles onboard, while a Royal Navy submarine in the region can also carry cruise missiles.

But Russia, Syria and Iran have all issued strong warnings against any Western military action.

But Downing Street stressed that no decisions had been taken on any response amid discussions with international partners and any action would be "within a strict legal framework" and "within international law".

Mr Cameron is to chair a meeting of the National Security Council - attended by military and intelligence chiefs and senior ministers - on Wednesday, while Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has cancelled a visit to Afghanistan.

It is understood the most likely military response to Wednesday's suspected chemical weapons attack would be a one-off or limited guided missile strikes on Syrian military targets fired from US Navy warships.

The Labour Party and several Conservative MPs have insisted the prime minister must explain to Parliament the objectives and legal basis for any UK involvement or co-operation before it happens.

Although the Commons voted on UK military intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, there is no legal obligation for the government to get parliamentary approval before committing British forces.

The prime minister has the final say on deploying British troops in conflicts, using Royal Prerogative powers.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said it was right to consider all options but he was "not prepared to write the government a blank cheque" with regards to committing British forces and MPs must be allowed to vote on any proposed steps.

Residents gather around a convoy of UN vehicles carrying a team of UN chemical weapons experts at one of the sites of an alleged poison gas attack in the Damascus suburb of Muadhamiya on 26 August 2013 UN chemical weapons inspectors spent nearly three hours in the suburb of Muadhamiya in western Damascus on Monday.
Image taken from amateur video footage, a UN inspector, right, speaks to a man about the alleged chemical weapon attack at a makeshift hospital in Muadhamiya, Damascus, on 26 August 2013 The inspectors visited two hospitals and interviewed survivors, eyewitnesses and doctors over last week's suspected chemical attack near the Syrian capital.
Still from amateur video posted online shows a presumed UN staff member measuring and photographing a canister in the suburb of Muadhamiya in Damascus on 26 August 2013 Amateur video was posted online apparently showing a UN inspector measuring and photographing a canister.

"Is it a broad objective of changing the civil war or trying to remove (President) Bashar al-Assad or is it a more limited objective of trying to degrade his capability to use these weapons with impunity?" he asked.

Parliament is due to return from its summer recess on Monday but more than 60 MPs have signed a motion calling for a one-off session before that to discuss the crisis.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said he did not believe the action being discussed would have much effect on the Assad government's military capability and would further strain relations with Russia, a key ally of Syria.

"Intervention in the Middle East in the past has not exactly been in our best interests," he told the BBC News Channel.

Mr Cameron spoke to a number of foreign leaders over the bank holiday weekend, including US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French and German counterparts.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the use of chemical weapons is a "moral obscenity" which cannot be ignored but Russia has said there is no evidence an attack had taken place or who was responsible.

'Fabricated' footage

Moscow has warned any intervention without a UN mandate would be "a grave violation of international law".

The UN Security Council is made up of 15 states, including five permanent members - China, Russia, France, the US and the UK - who have the power to veto any resolution.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has told the BBC it would be possible for the UK and its allies to respond without the UN's unanimous backing.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said enduring controversy over the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 should not stop politicians from helping the Syrian people.

line break
Map showing the areas where the alleged chemical attacks took place in Syria
  • 01:15: 21 August (10:15 GMT 20 Aug): Facebook pages of Syrian opposition report heavy fighting in rebel-held eastern districts of the Ghouta, the agricultural belt around Damascus
  • 02:45: Opposition posts Facebook report of "chemical shelling" in Ein Tarma area of the Ghouta
  • 02:47: Second opposition report says chemical weapons used in Zamalka area of the Ghouta
  • Unverified video footage shows people being treated on pavements in the dark and in a makeshift hospital
  • Reports say chemical weapons were used in Ghouta towns of Irbin, Jobar, Zamalka and Ein Tarma as well as in Muadhamiya to the west, but this is not confirmed
  • Syrian government acknowledges military offensive in the Ghouta but denies chemical weapons use
line break

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  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    If chemical weapons are being used it will be by the "opposition" who simply want to draw in western troops for a killing, It is hard to obtain a visa to go abroad for killing reasons so much easier to "invite" them to visit you

  • Comment number 202.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Hopefully Russia will fulfill the already announced ground to air missile and anti-ship missile orders that Syria placed some time ago.

    That would stop any foolish action on the part of the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Yes draw up plans to fight Assad, that's what the rebels want, and is a very good reason for the rebels to launch chemical weapons on their own people and claim it was Assad! Can't disprove it!

    Keep out of it, on one side you have a power mad idiot and on the other you have terrorist funded, UK/US supplied idiots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    IF, repeat IF, there is a genuine reason a force has to go into Syria it must be a UN sponsored one. That way those countries that make up the UN will be party to it.
    (Note: the intel world has always said that Sadam Hussein asked Assad to store his chemical weapons in Syria. Could it be that the media got it wrong about there being no WMD?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    I keep getting modded and referred for pointing out that the beeb gets advertising revenue from abroad from stories with an international flavour.
    The fact that three/four comment section are open on this subject are is indicative.
    If you are ashamed of it don't do it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Curious feeling of déjà vu. Iraq 2003 anybody? Weapons of mass destruction? If anyone has form for dropping chemical weapons, it's Al Nusra (affiliate of Al Qaeda that we surreptitiously & disingenuously provide armed support too).

    Another instance of our mendacious, machiavellian and psychopathic politicians lying through their teeth to help out their military industrial complex chums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    81 of Camerons own MP's opposed arming Syrian rebels yet Dave still wants to push ahead into a war in Syria.
    Under his leadership the people of the U.K. have faced sharp austerity and have not had any help or aid thrown at them and now we must run the gauntlet of another Iraq/Afghan War.
    The man has passed his sell by date. Punish him at the next election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Sign the petition AGAINST Military action in Syria here-:

    We DO NOT have much time to stop the insanity of our own government.

    Write to you MP NOW!!!! Here -:

    Do it Now......

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Heard that Tony Blair is all for an invasion of Syria.
    Tony Blair's record stands for itself Andrew.
    After engaging UK to a couple of wars (one of them illegal), he went on to become Peace Envoy (Middle East). The Palestinians were not happy with (unbiased?) Tony because he sided more with Israelis.

    Peace Envoy - War monger War criminal more like (proven in a court of law)

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Probably as bad as I would feel if we launched an attack on Assad, Russia and China responded and what started out as limited action progressed into a major war - and then had it confirmed that the rebels themselves carried out the attack.
    If Iraq should have taught us anything, it's do it slowly and by the numbers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    NO, NO, NO!!!
    The UN must go in with a peace-keeping force, then work with the Arab League to sort this out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Uk riots 2011, Uk burns for 3-4 days, Dave stays on holiday

    Syria crisis, wants to return early from holiday to lay plans to kill people, because allegedly some other people killed some people, cancels holiday.

    Priorities Dave, you have none, or morals, or a sense of self dignity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Why oh why!! Not again. What right have we to play world's policeman! What national interest is served? Are the Dutch parliamant being recalled to discuss what action to take!? Why us,,!! It's madness...

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    "The Western hysteria created for the stark geopolitical reasons will create a general and uncontrollqble mayhem for evrybody inside and outside the region."

    In short: business as usual, then. The good old boys will be pleased...

    (that could be post 142 from the other, identical Syria debate, by the way)...

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    "But make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons "

    Why does anything that 'President' Obama (he's not 'President' in this country, just a US citizen) believes matter to anyone in the UK?

    I have not the slightest interest in anything this man chooses to "believe." Total irrelevance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    We know the BBC has helped our Government over the years with Propaganda work they have done.

    But do we need British License fee payer money to do the American Propaganda for them?
    WE know Britian has a "Specail relationship" with the the US, but the BBC Speacial realationship is with the USA is getting behond a joke!

    I feel this is tantamount to treason on your part.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    We should wait till we see what the UN inspectors find out, then take action together with UN backing as part of an international force against whoever was responsible. Their role is not regime change it is prosecuting those responsible as war criminals and providing help/treatment for the victims. (Stop and think. Who has the most to gain from gas attacks ?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    I don't believe anyone wants to see Western Forces either intervening or increasing the chances of an all out conflict in the Middle East.
    However, the UN was set up to prevent or stop by force if needed. The UN needs to grow a pair and vote to stop this atrocity, furthermore it should've done so earlier and faster, not just in Syria ! If it doesn't take action now, then it's a wasted concept !

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    We must act! The intelligence files show that Saddam has WMD that is ready to be launched against us in 45mins. The same files also show that he tried to buy yellow cake from Nigeria. Western intelligence shows that he supports AQ.

    Oh sorry, Wrong country and wrong leader. But, it's still true!?


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