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St Helens MPs urge caution over Syria military strikes
5:10pm Wednesday 28th August 2013 in News
ST HELENS MP Dave Watts will chair a meeting of backbench Labour MPs tomorrow as the party debates whether to back military intervention in Syria.
Watts and his St Helens colleague Shaun Woodward have both expressed caution about the Western powers directing strikes against President Assad’s regime.
Watts will chair the parliamentary meeting of Labour backbenchers ahead of a Commons vote by MPs, who have been recalled to Westminster in the wake of the chemical weapons attack near Damascus, which reportedly killed hundreds of civilians, including children.
Prime Minister David Cameron today gathered the UK's armed forces and security chiefs with key cabinet ministers in Downing Street for emergency talks over possible military action.
And Downing Street has said the Cabinet will meet to approve a UK response following the recommendation agreed unanimously by the National Security Council.
The meeting is expected to help shape the wording of a motion to be voted on by MPs tomorrow.
It is being reported Labour leader Ed Miliband has asked the Prime Minister to publish Attorney General Dominic Grieve’s legal advice about military action.
In a statement today, St Helens South MP Woodward, the former Northern Ireland secretary, said military force should be a “last resort” with an aim that is clear and legal.
He said: “Everyone is horrified by the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The responsible question we have to face is what action can we collectively take against Assad which will effectively limit or stop his capability to use these weapons of horror and terror.
“The recourse to military strikes has to be the action of last resort; and only when it is clear that we have a defined goal and that this is both achievable and legal.”
Watts, meanwhile, believes the majority of the parliamentary Labour party have “major concerns” about any forms of military action.
The St Helens North MP, who has held talks with Labour leader Ed Miliband and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, said he and colleagues are “horrified by the use of chemical weapons” but warned any military intervention must be taken “within international law and have to be achieved without civilian casualties”.
Asked whether Labour backbenchers were positioning themselves against action because many in the UK believe the previous Government wrongly led the country into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he replied: “It is a much more complex situation in Syria. Quite frankly we don’t know who the good guys are.
“There is a lot of regional and religious differences and it is not clear if regime change happened who would come out on top.”
He said action could potentially further “destabilise” a country that has been linked to terrorism in the past, adding: “It is a very complex and difficult situation.”
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has urged Western powers to hold off on military strikes until weapons inspectors have investigated last week’s chemical attack.
The Times reports he has pleaded for at least four more days for the UN’s own inspectors to compile their report. UN inspectors were finally given permission to visit the scene in rebel-held Eastern Damascus on Monday, five days after the attack which left an estimated 355 people dead.
But it remains to be seen how the UK Government will react to those words.
On Wednesday a Number 10 spokeswoman said: "The National Security Council met to consider the Government's response to the appalling chemical weapons attack near Damascus last week.
"The NSC agreed unanimously on a recommendation that the Cabinet will consider tomorrow.
"Ministers agreed that the (Bashar) Assad regime was responsible for this attack and that the world shouldn't stand idly by and that any response should be legal, proportionate and specifically to protect civilians by deterring further chemical weapons use."
The NSC also backed the UK's move to table a draft resolution to be debated by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in an effort to show willing to secure international support.
The resolution would authorise "all necessary measures to protect civilians" and condemns "the chemical weapons attack by Assad".
The Prime Minister wrote on Twitter: "The NSC agreed unanimously that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was unacceptable - and the world should not stand by,"
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies has declared his backing for UK participation in US-led actions against President Assad.
Mr Davies said: "Many countries may secretly possess chemical weapons but their use is outlawed by the UN's Chemical Weapons Convention.
"Assad has crossed a red line by using them against his own people in Syria to horrible and murderous effect.
“If no action is taken against him then regimes elsewhere will feel at liberty to follow his example.
"International law must not only be respected it must also be enforced. Someone has to do this.
"Even the limited use of airstrikes against military targets gives rise to risks and dangers, but if we do nothing the consequences could be very much worse."
Davies has called for clear objectives to be set for military action to prevent the UK from being caught up in another Iraq conflict.
He said: “The aim should be to remove the ability of the Assad regime to use its chemical weapon stockpiles by degrading its military capability and air power.
"Injury to civilians in Damascus or elsewhere must be avoided "Bashar Assad should be told in clear terms what he must do if the actions against his regime are to cease."
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