Prime Minister Theresa May has today told Parliament that it was ‘legally and morally right’ for the UK to join airstrikes in Syria against the Assad regime to prevent ‘further human suffering’, despite Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn labelling the military ‘legally questionable.’
Her comments come after the decision by the UK, France and the US, to launch over a hundred missiles towards Syrian capital Damascus and Western city Homs on Friday. The specific targets were a scientific research center in Damascus, a chemical storage facility in Homs, and another chemical storage site nearby.
According to the Pentagon, the strikes, which began at 4 am Syrian time on Saturday 14 April, involved planes, and ship-launched missiles. There have been no recorded casualties as of yet, and all three participating coutries are hailing the strike as a ‘success’.
The collaborative airstrike comes in response to the recent chemical attack on Syrian city Douma on April 7, about 10 km northeast of Damascus, which is known to be a major hub of resistance against the Assad regime.
Syrian opposition activists, rescue workers and medics reported that more than 40 people were killed in the attack which, according to the Violations Documentation Center (VDC) who record any violations of international law in Syria, included two separate incidents of bombs believed to contain toxic substances being dropped by the Syrian Air Force under the control of President Assad.
According to the Syrian Civil Defence and Syrian American Medical Society more than 500 patients were brought to the medical facilities with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent.
Various sources including the World Health Organisation reported that approximately 43 people died with symptoms related to highly toxic chemicals.
Was reactive military action justified?
France prompted the military retaliation with President Emmanuel Macron saying it has ‘proof’ that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was behind the attack and that chlorine, at the very least, was used.
Prime Minister Theresa May has insisted that the action was ‘legally and morally right’ and said in a speech to the public on Saturday that the ‘coordinated and targeted strikes’ were to ‘degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons facility, and to deter their use.’
She went on to say; ‘this is not about intervening in a civil war, it is not about regime change.’
The strikes have been verbally supported by many countries including Canada, Germany, Turkey and, Israel who was among the first to praise the strikes; ‘Last year, President Trump made it clear that the use of chemical weapons crosses a red line. Tonight, under American leadership, the United States, France and the United Kingdom enforced that line.’
The Syrian government denies all any participation in the attack and the official state news agency Sana called the air strikes ‘a flagrant violation of international law.’
Main ally Russia has also rebutted the allegation saying it has ‘irrefutable evidence’ that the incident was ‘staged’ with the help of the UK. President Vladimir Putin denounced the stikes as a Western ‘act of aggression’, ironically commenting that it would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
A strong ally of President Assad, Putin has been providing substantial financial and military aid to his regime since 2015, assisting Assad in tearing apart his country and terrorising any resistance.
The legality of the hasty airstrikes has been called into question by multiple sources.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has called Theresa May’s sanction on military action in Syria ‘legally questionable’ and has called for a war powers act to ‘support or stop’ a government decision to take part in military action, telling the Prime Minister that she was ‘accountable to this Parliament, not the whims of the US President.’
In a letter to Theresa May and a subsequent interview with the BBC, Corbyn put pressure to publish the legal basis for the airstrikes in full and criticises her decision to launch the missiles without consulting Parliament, which was convening the following Monday after the strike.
Ian Blackford, leader of the opposition Scottish National Party reiterated Corbyn’s criticism of May for not consulting MP’s over the strikes, which breaks with a convention dating back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“The prime minister leads a minority government,” he said.”It was perfectly possible for the house to have been recalled in advance, why was this not done?”
The Government has as of yet only released a summary of its legal advice and justification.
Corbyn also referenced the comments made by the United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres who said that despite the ‘abhorrent’ and ‘horrendous’ use of chemical weapons, the allies should exercise caution with their response.
‘I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and suffering of the Syrian people.’
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 5,188,087 Syrian refugees that have fled Assad’s persecution since the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that over the last 7 years, approximately 511,000 people have been killed in the conflict and that 85% of these deaths have been killed by Al-Assad’s regilabelme forces.
Both sides claim to have evidence that justifies or condemns Saturday’s air strikes. Clearly, the international community has a duty to intervene in cases of gross misconduct and human rights violations, however, history tells us that using weapons to stop weapons is sometimes a short-sighted, temporary fix.
This arguably hasty move by the UK, France and the US cannot help but worsen life for the Syrian people and these three countries now need to make sure that their borders are open to the inevitable increase in refugees that will result from continued Western military action in Syria.