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May denies acting as Trump’s lapdog in bombing Syria

4th May 2018

Hamed Chapman

Prime Minster, Theresa May, denied that she acted effectively as the lapdog of President Donald Trump when joining with the US and France in bombing selected targets in Syria on April 14.

Defending her decision to authorise the sending of four Tornados to fire eight Storm Shadow cruise missiles, she insisted that the restricted military action was in the “national interest” and was “legally and moral right” despite being carried out without a UN Security Council mandate and the approval by Parliament.

Facing questions from MPs, May was further criticised for not waiting for inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to independently verify that an alleged gas attack on Douma, near Damascus, had actually taken place on April 7 and that the alleged perpetrator responsible was the government of Bashir al-Assad.

“Were we not just following orders from America? Let me be absolutely clear: we have acted because it is in our national interest to do so,” she told Parliament.

“We have not done this because President Trump asked us to; we have done it because we believed it was the right thing to do.”

Days before the strikes, the US President announced on Twitter his intentions to launch military action, warning Syria that “nice and new and smart” missiles would be coming. It was an issue taken up in the House of Commons debate by former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kenneth Clarke, to have one more excuse not to recall MPs to gain their approval.

“The Prime Minister said that there was a problem of time, but surely once President Trump had announced to the world what he was proposing, a widespread debate was taking place everywhere – including among many Members of Parliament in the media. However, there was no debate in Parliament,” the father of the House said.

Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, raised reports by the BBC that the Prime Minister had brought forward the missile strikes on Syria ahead of MPs returning from the Easter recess to “avoid Parliamentary scrutiny.”

He also challenged her on the legality doubts of the action, suggesting that UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, also said as much when reiterating that all countries must “act in line with the United Nations charter, which states that action must be in self-defence or be authorised by the United Nations Security Council.”
May had assured that Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, had given clear legal advice approving the action but a summary that she published cites no authority. It does not quote the UN Charter, any Security Council Resolution or any international treaty of any kind which justifies this action.

“The summary note references the disputed humanitarian intervention doctrine, but even against this, the Government fail their own tests. The overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe due to the civil war in Syria is absolutely indisputable, but the Foreign Secretary said yesterday that these strikes would have no bearing on the civil war. The Prime Minister has reiterated that today by saying that this is not what these military strikes were about,” Corbyn told Parliament.

Further criticism of the military action focused on the timing of the attacks that coincided with the arrival of OPCW inspectors in Syria and that there was no proof that chemical weapons had been used, let alone who was responsible.

“While much suspicion rightly points to the Assad Government, chemical weapons have been used by other groups in the conflict – for example, Jaish al-Islam [who had 15,000 fighters in Douma], which was reported to have used gas in Aleppo in 2016, among other groups,” the Labour Leader pointed out.

But May disputed the possibility of chemical weapons being used by others. “It is understood that these chemical weapons were delivered by barrel bombs, which are normally dropped from helicopters. There is the evidence that I cited in relation to regime helicopter activity in Douma on the date in question, and it is not the case that the groups to which the Rt Hon Gentleman referred have access to the helicopters and barrel bombs that would be able to deliver such a chemical weapons attack.”

Among those to have warned that Britain needed “unequivocal proof” that the chemical attack in Douma was carried out by Assad’s forces was former professional head of Britain’s senior military force Lord West, who was also previously a Home Office minister with responsibility for security as well as an advisor to Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

“I’m not at all convinced at the moment we have unequivocal proof. All of the reports are coming from people like the White Helmets, who have a track record of actually doing propaganda for the opposition forces in Syria. The World Health Organisation reports are coming from doctors working in Douma who are also part of the opposition there,” the former First Sea Lord said.

Speaking on TalkRadio, he also questioned the motives behind the attack, remarking that for Syrian Government to use chemical weapons at this stage in a war he had nearly won was illogical. “As a military man, if I had been an advising Assad, I’d have said ‘you’re about to take over that bit of territory, you’ve nearly got the whole of that area now under your control. Why on earth would you do something that would bring the international forces in?’”

Further doubts about what happened in Douma were raised by award-winning journalist Robert Fisk, who was among the first media representatives to arrive the underground clinic at the centre of the crisis to be told by a senior doctor there that the victims were “overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.”

“There was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a ‘White Helmet’, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning,” Dr Assim Rahaibani said.

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