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

More on This Story

Syria conflict


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  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    The problem is, Syria isn't Iraq. They have advanced weaponary and defense systems and there is no way that Russia will allow us bomb Syria at will.

    This could escalate so easily, all based on no evidence whatsoever yet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    BBC Are Terrorists good or bad now?

    It's hard to keep up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    Tony Blair became the most hated man in recent UK political history by embarking on a military conflict against the British people's wishes. Why do these Tories want to repeat history?
    I suppose they are already pretty well hated so the PR damage doesn't matter to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Cameron has no mandate to do anything in Syria and even if he did he doesn't have the first clue what sort of outcome he wants. And don't give me the old "democratic and freely elected government" blurb 'cause that really hasn't worked out too well anywhere else we were conned into getting involved like Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya. If he wants to fight fine, give him a rifle and wave him goodbye.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Cameron and Hague should stay away . They will make things worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    one poster says his conscience doesn't allow him to see the bodies of Syrian women and children. Well then he should understand that this is exactly how I feel about seeing our troops coming home in body bags from a war that was NOTHING TO DO WITH US. It's a Arab problem - let them deal with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Instead of Britain/Us getting involved we should try to get our own chaotic houses in order. With both our crippled economies, we can't afford to run the health services, aid the unemployed, aged, disabled & homeless & failing industries so we can't get involved in wars Moslems want to fight with each other. While they war with themselves they leave us infidels alone. Capiche, Cameron & Obama?

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Not sure what Army the saber rattling politicians think we are going to send? Those that havent just been made redundant (apparently we are not needed now) are threaders with it all - Bosnia followed by Iraq followed by Afhgan followed by Syria? Thankfully I'll retire soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    The people of Cyprus must be delighted that their island will be in the firing line seeing as the forces will be using RAF Akrotiri as a striking base.

    Hard facts first please before you and your war mongrels drag us into another un-winnable conflict or something worst of Russia and China get involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    What on earth are we doing we have been down this route before, Iraq Afghanistan and Libya and used the same excuse, that our security is at risk. Surely the same reason can't hold up, how can Syria affect our Country, it doesn't so what motives has Cameron and the idiot Hague have to warrant war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Theres always plenty of money for war,isnt there?

    -its big business,in times of "ideological" austerity.

    Whos funding both sides with weapons of war?

    I recall seeing a list drawn up by the PNAC in the mid 90s..the top three on that list were Syria,Iran and N Korea.(the ones lower down have been taken out..) 7 down,3 to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Yesterday there were two HYS main topics.

    One about Local Councils being anti-car; huge numbers of people commenting that Councils don't listen to the public on a range of matters.

    The other one about Syria, again the overwhelming positive votes all wishing to avoid war and saying that government ignores the people on serious issues.

    Conclusion: Where is our democracy and our voice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    '...follow agreement with international allies'
    Yes,what does that mean exactly?

    Answer: Follow the USA because of our 'special relationship' were they tell us what to do and we blindly oblige.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.
    Read this - translate from Arabic.
    I know who I believe, as quite simply Assad would have been very foolish, even more so than our stupid western leaders, to do this when UN inspectors were in Syria.
    Parliament being recalled! So please write to your MP and say vote for war so NO VOTE from me to you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    If this is true.. and we wage war on Assad, then it's a big win for the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Queda.
    But, then, maybe that is what Obama/Cameron wants as a strategic step towards reducing global terrorism, mad, how it may seem!

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    For all those against UK military intervention - Contact your local MP. Make clear your stance on this issue and how your future vote for them is dependent on it.

    I am sick of the arm chair generals and warmongers who think the answer to everything is missiles and bombing. We have the makings of a regional war in the and our politicians seem hell bent on making it happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is TELL THEM THEY ARE BEING ATTACKED, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. IT WORKS THE SAME IN ANY COUNTRY"

    As spoken in Nuremberg by Hermann Goerring

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    103. ahwasright wrote in blind panic: "If we do go to war has anyone calculated how many asylum seekers will be coming over here?"


    None, probably. The UK is not the destination of choice for Syrians (except the rich ones) - Turkey will get most of the problem, as it has so far with the thousands of refugees already created.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    Bad things happen when good people do nothing. The UN should vote for an immediate ceasefire and the put a UN force in to police it. Surely all sides can agree to that? If not a UN force should enforce it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    FOR GODS SAKE, stay away. we can't be the world police with america for every conflict that takes place. most people in the UK do not want to get invloved in wars, also syria is no threat to us that i know of?? but they will be if we get involved in their business.


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