May blasts Syria, Russia
British prime minister defends military airstrikes
British Prime Minister Theresa May told restive lawmakers on Monday that military airstrikes against Syria were right both legally and morally, and accused Syria and its ally Russia of attempting to coverup evidence of a deadly chemical weapons attack.
May faced down her domestic critics as European Union foreign ministers united to say they understood the need for the airstrikes and called for a new push for a political solution to the war in Syria.
Royal Air Force jets joined American and French warplanes and ships in hitting targets in Syria early Saturday in response to a reported chemical attack by the Syrian government in the town of Douma.
The British government is not legally bound to seek lawmakers’ approval for military strikes, although it is customary to do so.
May told lawmakers in the House of Commons that consulting them would have been impractical, both because Parliament was on a spring break until Monday and because some of the intelligence behind the decision was classified.
“We have always been clear that the government has the right to act quickly in the national interest,” May said, calling the military action “not just morally right but also legally right.”
“We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized, either within Syria, on the streets of the U.K., or elsewhere,” May said - linking the chemical attack in Syria with the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter last month with a militarygrade nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury.
Syria and its backer Russia have both denied that Syrian government forces carried out the Douma gas attack, suggesting it may have been staged to implicate them.
May said the presence of helicopters and the use of barrel bombs pointed the finger of blame squarely at the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. She accused Syria, aided by Russia, of trying to block an investigation into the gas attack being done by the international chemical weapons watchdog.
“The Syrian regime has reportedly been attempting to conceal the evidence by searching evacuees from Douma to ensure samples are not being smuggled from this area. And a wider operation to conceal the facts of the attack is underway, supported by the Russians,” she said.
Russian military police officers check a weapons factory left behind by members of the Army of Islam group, in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus, Syria, Monday.