Air strikes by Britain, France and the United States in Syria sent a “clear message” against the use of chemical weapons, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Saturday and declared the action as successful.
The British Prime Minister told reporters at a Downing Street press conference on Saturday that the coordinated strikes to degrade the Bashar al-Assad led Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability involved four Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado GR 4s. “This collective action sends a clear message that the international community will not stand by and tolerate the use of chemical weapons,” she said. LIVE UPDATES
The tornadoes launched storm shadow missiles at a military facility some 15 miles west of Homs, where the Assad regime was assessed to have kept chemical weapons in breach of Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
“While the full assessment of the strike is ongoing, we are confident of its success… it was a limited, targeted and effective strike with clear boundaries that expressly sought to avoid escalation and did everything possible to prevent civilian casualties,” May said.
Acknowledging that there no “graver decision” for a prime minister than to commit the country’s forces to combat, Theresa May said that following discussions with US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron the trio had agreed to hit a specific and limited set of targets.
These included a chemical weapons storage and production facility, a key chemical weapons research centre and a military bunker involved in chemical weapons attacks.
“Hitting these targets with the force that we have deployed will significantly degrade the Syrian Regime’s ability to research, develop and deploy chemical weapons,” she said.
Making a reference to Russia, which has been supporting the Syrian regime, Theresa May indicated that the strikes were also intended as a message to Moscow over its own use of a deadly nerve agent against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury last month.
“We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere. We must reinstate the global consensus that chemical weapons cannot be used,” she said.
In a statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the air strikes as an “act of aggression” by the three western allies, which would worsen the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
The UK’s Opposition Labour party branded the strikes as “legally questionable”, conducted without the backing or vote in the UK Parliament. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn condemned the government’s involvement in the US-led strikes, saying it “makes real accountability for war crimes and use of chemical weapons less, not more likely”.
May said that due to “operational security reasons” it had been “right and legal” to take the action in the way that the US, France and Britain had.
The strikes, which had been expected since Trump had tweeted a series of warnings to Syria over the past week, follows reports last Saturday of up to 75 people, including young children, being killed in the Syrian city of Douma. Theresa May stressed that after assessments, alongside the US and France, all the indications were that it had been a chemical weapons attack which led to some harrowing images of men, women and children lying dead with foam in their mouths.
The British PM had received her Cabinet’s backing for military action during an emergency meeting on Thursday. The UK asserts that the action is not about interfering in a civil war or about regime change.
Earlier on Saturday, UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson also described the air strikes as a “highly successful mission”, adding that the UK, France and America had played an important role in “degrading the ability of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons”.