By Angela Haggerty
Prime Minister David Cameron told an emergency House of Commons debate on the fragile situation in Syria on Thursday that the government must make a judgement call on whether to take military action against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad.
Mr Cameron admitted the government did not have conclusive proof that President Assad’s regime was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack last week but said it was “highly likely”.
MPs were called back early from their summer break for the debate although no decision will be taken today on whether MPs approve of military intervention. Instead, the Prime Minister said time would be given for UN inspectors to complete investigations into the alleged chemical weapons attack which killed at least 300 people and left thousands requiring hospital treatment.
“Let’s not pretend there is one smoking piece of intelligence that can solve the whole problem,” said Mr Cameron, adding that the UK should be clear on its objectives.
“It’s not about taking sides in the conflict, it’s not about invading, it’s not about regime change or indeed working more closely with the opposition,” he went on.
“It’s about the large-scale use of chemical weapons and our response to a war crime – nothing else.”
While Mr Cameron insisted that the preferred option was intervention with UN backing, he said it wasn’t essential and that the case could still be made for action under international law.
When questioned on what President Assad’s regime had to gain by using chemical weapons, Mr Cameron admitted attributing a motive had been a difficult task but he believed the Syrian government was “testing boundaries” and the international response must be clear.
Labour party leader Ed Miliband did not oppose military action in principle but insisted the UN must be given time to deliver a clearer picture of what happened in the alleged chemical weapons incident and there should be a clear road-map to a decision.
Russia is opposed to military action and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for patience. The UN is expecting a report from inspectors in the country on Saturday. President Obama said in June that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” for the US, although the West claims that last week’s incident was one of several such attacks in the country by Syrian forces.
However, President Assad has strongly denied that his regime was behind the attack, pointing the finger instead at Syrian rebels. He told a Russian publication that suggestions his forces were responsible for the attack were “contrary to basic logic” and said the accusations were “political”.
Civil war has ravaged the country and the UN estimates there have been at least 80,000 deaths.