Syria crisis: Robust response needed, David Cameron says


Prime Minister David Cameron: "We must listen to Parliament"

A "robust response" to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria is needed despite UK military involvement being ruled out, the prime minister has said.

David Cameron was defeated in the Commons as MPs rejected a motion on the principle that military action could be required to protect Syrian civilians.

Despite the result of the vote, the US said it would continue to seek a coalition for military intervention.

And France said the vote did not change its resolve about the need to act.

At the scene

The weapons inspectors this morning seemed to be in two or three minds about what was going on.

Twice they left the garage of the hotel where they and foreign correspondents are staying, looking as if they were ready to head out, and twice they went back in.

Perhaps they had a plan to visit some of the suburbs held by rebels that they had been going into to take samples, but there has been a lot of shelling going on in that direction today.

Now they are here at the regime's military hospital. There have been claims from the regime itself that they had soldiers wounded by chemical weapons, and perhaps those are the people they have come to see.

Russia - which has close ties with the the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - welcomed the UK's rejection of a military strike, while Germany has ruled out participation in any action.

Washington said it remained committed to a possible strike and would seek to build a coalition of those in favour of possible military action.

President Obama convened the US National Security Council earlier, according to the AFP news agency.

The White House believes President Assad's regime was responsible for the chemical attack on 21 August which it says killed 1,429 people in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus - a figure far higher than previously reported.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Syrian forces carefully prepared for the attack days in advance.

UN weapons inspectors have finished their investigation in Syria and are expected to deliver their preliminary findings to secretary general Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.

Mr Cameron said it was a "regret" that he had been unable to build a consensus on the response to the suspected chemical weapons attack.

However he insisted the UK remained "deeply engaged" on the world stage.

Ian Pannell: The victims "arrived like the walking dead"

The UK government's defeated motion had called for military action if it was backed up by evidence from the weapons inspectors.

In Syria, the BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen said he had spoken to people inside President Assad's administration who were "cock-a-hoop" at the UK vote. "They believe it counts as a victory for them," he added.

"We will defend ourselves," Dr Bassam Abu Abdullah from the Syrian Information Ministry said, warning of danger "not only on the Syrian people but... the whole region" if the US decided to attack.

'Appalling crime'

In an interview at Downing Street, Mr Cameron said it was important to listen to Parliament's decision.

Start Quote

Many British former senior officers are relieved that Parliament has - certainly for now - prevented deeper UK involvement in Syria ”

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And despite MPs voting against military action, he said: "I think it's important we have a robust response to the use of chemical weapons and there are a series of things we will continue to do."

Mr Cameron added: "We will continue to take a case to the United Nations, we will continue to work in all the organisations we are members of - whether the EU, or Nato, or the G8 or the G20 - to condemn what's happened in Syria.

"It's important we uphold the international taboo on the use of chemical weapons."

There had been suggestions from ministers, including Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond, that Britain's rejection of military action would harm its relationship with the US.

Mr Hammond warned against the vote allowing Britain to "turn into a country that prefers to turn its back".

"We must stay engaged with the world," he told the BBC.

Mr Cameron, though, said he would not have to apologise to President Barack Obama.

"I was faced with three things I wanted to do right and do in the right way," he said.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen reports from Damascus where he says the the vote by UK MPs is seen as a victory

"First of all, to condemn absolutely and respond properly to an appalling war crime that took place in Syria. Secondly, to work with our strongest and most important ally who had made a request for British help. Thirdly, to act as a democrat, to act in a different way to previous prime ministers and properly consult Parliament.

"I wanted to do all those three things. Obviously politics is difficult - that involved going to Parliament, making an argument in a strong and principled way but then listening to Parliament.

"I think the American people and President Obama will understand that."

In other developments:

  • The BBC witnessed the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a school playground in northern Syria which left scores of children with napalm-like burns
  • The US said it would act in its "best interests" in dealing with the Syria crisis, following UK rejection of military intervention
  • French President Francois Hollande said all options were being considered, and has not ruled out a strike within days
  • UN weapons inspectors visited a hospital in a government-controlled area of Damascus
  • The Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Lebanon because of a "heightened risk of anti-Western sentiment" linked to the possibility of military action in Syria. The BBC understands that the families of British diplomats are being evacuated
  • Former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans - architect of the so-called "responsibility to protect" doctrine - accused the UK of "making things up as it goes along". He blamed the government's "mishandling of the politics" for what he said was a "disappointing" vote against intervention
  • The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said there was "no doubt" President Assad's forces carried out the chemical attack
Graphic showing break down of how the UK parties' MPs voted

Labour leader Ed Miliband told the BBC: "I think ill thought-through military action would have made life worse, not better, for the Syrian people."

He accused the government of not learning the lessons of Iraq, adding MPs had "sent a message" that British forces would not be deployed "without going through the United Nations and without ensuring we have regard to the consequences in the region".

Syrians search under rubble to rescue people from houses that were destroyed by a Syrian government warplane, in Idlib province, northern Syria, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013 The two-year long civil war continues to inflict huge damage on the country

Earlier he said Mr Cameron was guilty of "reckless and impulsive leadership".

And the prime minister faced criticism from his own side, with former shadow home secretary David Davis accusing him of making a "shaky argument" for intervention.

"There was feeling of rushing to action," he told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme. "It's more important to get this right than to do it on a 10-day timetable".

Syrian refugees at the Cilvegozu crossing gate at Reyhanli in Antakya Refugees from Syria have been crossing the border into Turkey

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown has been critical of the decision to not take part in military action, saying the UK was "hugely diminished".

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have died since the conflict erupted in March 2011 and at least 1.7 million refugees displaced.

The violence began when anti-government protests during the Arab Spring uprisings were met with a brutal response by the Syrian security forces.

President Assad's regime has blamed foreign involvement and armed gangs for the conflict.

How could a potential strike be launched?
Syria map
Forces which could be used against Syria:

Four US destroyers - USS Gravely, USS Ramage, USS Barry and USS Mahan - are in the eastern Mediterranean, equipped with cruise missiles. The missiles can also be fired from submarines, but the US Navy does not reveal their locations

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

French aircraft carrierCharles de Gaulle is currently in Toulon in the western Mediterranean

French Raffale and Mirage aircraft can also operate from Al-Dhahra airbase in the UAE


More on This Story

Syria conflict


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1526.

    Cameron's an idiot

  • rate this

    Comment number 1525.

    1392 freeman

    Shown yourself up mate.

    Even if proven next week we have still ruled intervention out regardless. I didn't say it was already proven.


  • rate this

    Comment number 1524.

    Surely we should await a UN resolution and then act , this would allow an effective strategy to be developed in the interim.There is no point in pulling down an independent government without any clear idea of what may follow.Perhaps this also indicates that Cameron is losing the confidence of his own party after some of his deeply unpopular policies this year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1523.

    1500.Baxtero Rodriguez
    We need a new party for the people which actually listens to the people's wishes and focuses on issues which will improve our lives.
    No that's exactly what we don't need. We need independent MPs with no party that will do what the people who elected them want. MPs from parties toe the party line and that's not what best for the people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1522.

    For all those that are against Uk Military strike watch this footage from The BBC today

    Lets all sit on our hands and send them a strongly worded letter

  • rate this

    Comment number 1521.

    894.Ryan OJack If you knew anything about history you would know that the Russians did far more to defeat the Germans in WW2 than the Yanks

  • rate this

    Comment number 1520.

    we do not have a special relationship with america, they say jump and we ask how high!!

    Dropping bombs on innocent people doesnt help anyone!! Assad is bad but so are the rebels! so who would we actually be helping??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1519.

    Labour has been playing politics with our economy for the last three years. Now that the economy is on the rise they have switched to playing politics with our foreign policy. What next Health?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1518.

    Assad wants the world to think his government are the good guys, so let us use that against him. If it's true then he should have no problem with UN forces and weapons inspectors moving in to protect civilians from these 'terrorists' that he claims are attacking them. Make sure Russian and Chinese troops are included, the civilians will be safer and everyone will be happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1517.

    IRONY - CW -US
    Saddam's military ( US Regime Change - 1968 coup) also received intelligence assistance from the CIA in 1987 prior to the Iraqis' early 1988 launch of sarin attacks to stop the potentially decisive Iranian offensive to capture the southern city of Basra, which would result in a collapse of Iraqi military and Iranian victory.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1516.

    Syria has really crossed the redline and MUST be dealt with. If the west do no act, other countries will follow after the footsteps of syria and do worse. I am fully in support of a strike from the US - even if the US throws the first punch. There are LOADS of us waiting to die for America, just to make sure we put an end to the use of nuclear and chemical weapons!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1515.

    In Libya we spent over One Billion Pounds to see the place run by a bunch of THUGS with no law and order and if you have the guns you rule . More people have die in it's jails and else were than under Gaddafi . After that mess we want to stay well away from Syria . Bear in mind that we have in the last 10 years we have spent 50 Billion of Tax Payers money on Arab/african wars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1514.

    I just love the way that if you don't want to bomb people with no evidence and you can't actually identify the enemy yet - i.e. that you want to get things RIGHT and have a PLAN and be SURE of what you're doing and be SENSIBLE - somehow this makes you an isolationist!

    It's this kind of numb-nuts thinking that got us into a mess in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1513.

    WW3 here we come...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1512.

    One additional benefit of not backing the yanks...we now have a better chance in the Eurovision song contest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1511.

    Any MP that voted against the government last night should hang their heads in shame they have let the people of Syria down, let our allies down and let Britain down. We have been made to look like namby-pamby spineless cowards. Ware your white feather with shame

  • rate this

    Comment number 1510.

    To see my country draw back from a coalition in favour of international law and choose to stand aside does not fill me with great joy”

    Lord Ashdown
    Former Lib Dem leader

  • rate this

    Comment number 1509.

    Talk about flogging a dead horse.
    Shut up Cameron, no one is interested in what you think.
    That's why you were outvoted and publically shamed by the Commons vote last night.
    What you do now is resign and crawl back below your rock. You never had any mandate to be PM from the UK electorate anywhere (and to be fair, that's the same as Brown)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1508.

    1385 - if that was happening there would be a different response. It isn't! Instead of a 3-line tory whip for war in Iraq we have decided not to make open ended commitments. It can be reviewed again should Parliment feel there is a need. Mr Cameron is not a dictator.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1507.

    If the government was truly interested in helping innocent Syrians caught up in this conflict, they'd spend the money it would have cost chucking tomahawks at them on humanitarian aid. Oh I forgot, nobody makes any money out of charity!

    Military intervention would almost certainly open up an even bigger can of worms than the situation as it stands now.


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