Syria: Cameron says use of chemical weapons 'cannot stand'


David Cameron: "Any response would have to be legal, proportionate and deter future use of chemical weapons"

David Cameron has said the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is "morally indefensible" after he recalled Parliament to discuss responses to the crisis.

The prime minister said the world could "not stand idly by" in the face of the "massive use" of banned weapons.

But any military action would have to be proportionate and legal, he added.

The Syrian government said it was not responsible and the US and others were using it as an excuse to attack it.

The UK is considering military options following last week's suspected attack, which is being investigated by the United Nations.

Mr Cameron said he believed that the Syrian government had the "motive and the opportunity" to use chemical weapons while the likelihood of opposition forces being the perpetrators was "vanishingly small".

"What we have seen in Syria are appalling scenes of death and suffering because of the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime," he said. "I don't believe we can let that stand."

While there was no question of the UK and its allies seeking to alter the outcome of the military struggle in Syria, they must decide whether limited military action was needed to "deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons".

'Ready to go'

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The words "international law" convey the sense of a set of established international rules and authorities agreed by all nations, and easily understood and applied by them. Sadly that is far from the case”

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Downing Street confirmed that the prime minister had spoken to President Barack Obama on Tuesday evening but said no decisions would be taken before a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) on Wednesday.

The US has said there is "clear" evidence that President Bashar al-Assad's government was behind last week's attack on the outskirts of Damascus but Russia, a key ally of Syria, has questioned this.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said US forces were "ready to go" if given the order by President Obama but the facts of what had happened needed to be fully established before any decisions were taken.

A report on chemical weapons use being compiled by US intelligence would be published later this week, White House spokesman Jay Carney has said.

The Syrian authorities have blamed opposition fighters, with whom they have been involved in a civil war for more than two years.

UN weapons inspectors examined the scene of one of the alleged attacks on Monday - after being delayed by a sniper attack on their convoy - but on Tuesday postponed a second trip to rebel-held suburbs of Damascus until Wednesday because of safety fears.

'Flagrant abuse'

After cutting short his holiday to deal with the crisis, the prime minister said the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, had granted his request for Parliament to be recalled from its summer recess four days early, and MPs would have the chance to vote on a "clear motion" of action.

Nick Clegg: "The use of chemical weapons is a repugnant crime and a flagrant abuse of law"

Mr Cameron has held meetings with senior colleagues, including his deputy Nick Clegg and Foreign Secretary William Hague, ahead of a meeting of the NSC on Wednesday.

Mr Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats opposed the intervention in Iraq, said there would not be a "boots-on-the-ground invasion" of Syria.

He said: "The use of chemical weapons on men, women and children is a flagrant abuse of international law and if we stand idly by we set a very dangerous precedent."

He added that "any steps taken will have to be legal".

Labour leader Ed Miliband said there was a "lot of evidence" pointing to the past use of chemical weapons by the regime but any international response must be legally sound and be based on precise, achievable objectives.

Iraq legacy

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.

Thursday's Commons vote on the issue would not be legally binding but No 10 sources said the prime minister would listen to the will of Parliament amid concerns from MPs from all parties about the consequences of military intervention.

Although the Commons voted on UK military intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, Mr Cameron has the final say on deploying troops in conflicts, using Royal Prerogative powers.

Conservative MP Richard Ottaway said many MPs felt they had been "misled" over Iraq and urged ministers to make any intelligence about the chemical attacks available to members of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee - which meets in private.

Meanwhile, General Lord Dannatt - until 2009 head of the British Army - said military action without UN backing would be "wrong", and called on the PM to "convince the British people that there is a clear case for intervention".

Moscow has warned that any foreign involvement in Syria 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.

The Obama administration is reportedly studying the Nato-led military campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1999 as a potential precedent for intervention without a specific UN mandate.

The US and UK supported more than 70 days of air strikes against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic - in the face of Russian opposition - to protect civilians from further attacks in Kosovo.

But Syria's foreign minister, Walim Moualem, said the US and its allies were using the alleged chemical attack as a pretext to intervene in the bitter conflict in the country and any "act of aggression" would strengthen the hand of radical elements linked to al-Qaeda.

Map: Forces which could be used in strikes against Syria
Country Forces available for Syria strike


Four destroyers - USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan - are in the eastern Mediterranean, equipped with cruise missiles. Cruise missiles could also be launched from submarines. Airbases at Incirlik and Izmir in Turkey, and in Jordan, could be used to carry out strikes. Two aircraft carriers - USS Nimitz and USS Harry S Truman - are in the wider region.


Cruise missiles could be launched from a British Trafalgar class submarine. HMS Tireless was reportedly sighted in Gibraltar at the weekend. The Royal Navy's response force task group - which includes helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious and frigates HMS Montrose and HMS Westminster - is in the region on a previously-scheduled deployment. RAF Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus could also be used.


Aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is currently in Toulon in the western Mediterranean. Raffale and Mirage aircraft can also operate from Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Please Jesus save us from the masters of the universe. Jesus please inform the youth to love life and not to hand it in the hands of armchair generals from eton giving orders from their gentleman club dens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Another fine mess the UK/US is getting us into.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    we do not know which side used the alleged chemical weapons. we have no obligation to get involved in another countries internal affairs, especially as the more recent of such interventions have been too open ended and/or have not worked. Tell us what the signs of success would be, the likely timescale and costs, and what the exit strategy is, before considering another intervention, Mr Cameron.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    So what's the end game?
    You've got a country in all out civil war, with al_qaeda and other lunatics stirring up trouble. To think that eradicating the old despot will somehow result in peace is native in the extreme. The fact that we're there to save Muslim lives will carry no weight. These groups will take pleasure in killing our soldiers.
    We can't help here. We can only make things worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    This crisis proves that all political parties are the same. A five year dictatorship shared by 3 political parties who share almost identical policies and actions. The Labour party would do the exact same thing on Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    We can assume that Milliband and Labour will be anxious to follow Obama's lead and support Cameron and his compliant Tories into support for military intervention. Recalling Parliament is window dressing. If our soldiers are involved they will be treated with less respect than the enemy and God help anyone who says anything to offend fellow travellers of the enemy here in the multiculty UK

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I emailed my MP as soon as I saw this headline; I said that as a constituent, I demand he votes against any militaristic action proposed at Parliament on Thursday.

    I would ask that everyone else would do the same. Let them hear the cumulative indignation of the nation, and let them quiver in their boots. I will not allow war to rear its ugly head again in my name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    In a nutshell its a Shia Sunni fight.
    But it *will* affect us as the Shia side is sponsored by Russia. We all know how Russians treat human rights, remember gay law? So we need to understand its not just Assad, but the philosophy that we need to defeat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I doubt we'll see any hard evidence of why action is needed and against what target.

    The way I see it there 3 groups (Syrian government, rebels and the US government) with motive and means, all pointing their fingers at each other. Before our country goes to wart I'd like to see evidence of which should be the target.

    We should all know by now the government will just do as they please tho.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Since when do we elect Governments to go to a war that does not involve the security of out Nation, when its citizens are telling them not to? Never have they so clearly shown the people of this country that their opinion means nothing. Someone said let the Queen decide...well better her than them

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.


  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    There are too many dollars involved in the US war machine and supply chains for them not to go to war every now and again. But how on Earth can the UK get involved in this. We couldn't defend ourselves from a free kick at the moment but we're happy to go to cozy up to the Obama at every opportunity. We don't want or need this action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Waste of time. Going through the motions.

    Scrutiny is supposed to be what it's about but the official opposition is a waste of space.

    As a socialist, I despair at the state of the Labour party. With Douglas Alexander, this morning on Today talking like a pale imitation of a Jo Grimond Liberal, I hope there's some Tory backbone somewhere (If it can be found)

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.


    We need to flex our muscles against Syria and the US with the UK aligning for the cause is
    Good news
    I know Exodus 17:16 the bible states ‘a conflict initiated and led by God. Such a war was declared by God’
    Clearly we know if it makes sense we go for it,

    If my taxes are going to be used to go to war so bit, at least I know where my money is being used

    WHY WORRY? ¿?¿?

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    don't worry camerroon and haque, I will not be voting for you in 2015.

  • Comment number 125.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    We should use Syria to test fire Trident before it is replaced - no point in having them if we do not use them

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    God no more. Fools all. Only fools endlessly repeat the same disastrous actions expecting the outcome to be different. These warmongers need kicking OUT. They are not representing the wishes of their citizens. This is a proxy war with severe implications. Their actions will lead to thousands more deaths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Come one now people. Our government has used the chemical weapons on Syria, it was a false flag operation so that they can now bring Syria down with some sort of backing from us civilians. Terrible, wicked behaviour. Syria will not confirm to become a western puppet so US/UK are bringing them down!

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    I think we're missing a key bit of information before we even contemplate intervention - who actually carried out this attack? It seems like the Syrian Government had nothing to gain from this attack, they were winning anyway! A chemical attack was a well known "red line". I hate to say it but I'm skeptical. I agree with the red line nature of chemical weapons though, their use in inexcusable.


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