UK ministers back action to deter Syrian chemical weapon use

British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers on unspecified action in Syria to deter chemical weapons use. (Reuters)
Updated 13 April 2018
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UK ministers back action to deter Syrian chemical weapon use

  • May recalled the ministers from their Easter holiday for the meeting in Downing Street to discuss Britain’s response
  • Trump and his national security team were continuing to assess intelligence and speak with allies

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her senior ministers to take unspecified action with the United States and France to deter further use of chemical weapons by Syria after a suspected poison gas attack on civilians.
After warning Russia on Wednesday of imminent military action, US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was holding meetings on Syria and expected to make decisions “fairly soon.”
The White House said later that Trump and his national security team were continuing to assess intelligence and speak with allies, and that no final decisions had been made.
Russia has warned the West against attacking its Syrian ally President Bashar Assad, who is also supported by Iran, and says there is no evidence of a chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma near Damascus.
May recalled the ministers from their Easter holiday for the meeting in Downing Street to discuss Britain’s response to what she has cast as a barbaric attack that cannot go unchallenged.
May told her senior ministers on Thursday that the attack in Douma showed a “deeply concerning” erosion of international legal norms barring the use of chemical weapons.
“Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime,” a spokeswoman for the prime minister said in a statement after the meeting.
Ministers also agreed that May should continue to work with the United States and France to come up with the right response.
The statement made no specific reference to military action.
Later, May’s office said she had spoken with Trump by telephone, and that the two had agreed it was vital to challenge Assad’s use of chemical weapons, and that they would continue to work closely together to do so.
The rising tension over the Douma attack demonstrates the volatile nature of the Syrian civil war, which started in March 2011 as an anti-Assad uprising but is now a proxy conflict involving a number of world and regional powers and a myriad of insurgent groups.
The attack was first reported by Syrian rebel group Jaish Al-Islam on Saturday. Inspectors with the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, are due to investigate the incident.

US vs Russia?
The BBC said May was ready to give the go-ahead for Britain to take part in action led by the United States without seeking prior approval from parliament. Downing Street spokesmen repeatedly declined to comment on that report.
“The chemical weapons attack that took place on Saturday in Douma in Syria was a shocking and barbaric act,” May told reporters on Wednesday. “All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible.”
May is not obliged to win parliament’s approval, but a non-binding constitutional convention to do so has been established since a 2003 vote on joining the US-led invasion of Iraq.
It has been observed in subsequent military deployments in Libya and Iraq and many British lawmakers and voters are deeply skeptical of deepening involvement in the Syrian conflict.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said parliament should be consulted before May approved military action.


“Just imagine the scenario if an American missile shoots down a Russian plane, or vice-a-versa — where do we go from there?” Corbyn said.
A YouGov poll published on Thursday showed just one in five British voters supported a missile strike on Syria. The poll showed 43 percent of voters opposed such a strike and 34 percent did not know what should be done.
Britain has been launching air strikes in Syria from its military base in Cyprus, but only against targets linked to the Islamic State militant group.
Parliament voted down British military action against Assad’s government in 2013, in an embarrassment for May’s predecessor, David Cameron. That then deterred the US administration of Barack Obama from similar action.
The war plans of British leaders have been complicated in recent years by the memory of Britain’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq after asserting — wrongly, as it later turned out — that President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

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Lebanese election campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

Updated 25 April 2018
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Lebanese election campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

  • Lebanon's independent Sabaa party talks about exploitation of positions and money.
  • Several young men from the Sabaa party demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior.

BEIRUT: Sectarian and partisan polarization resulting from fierce competition for parliamentary seats in Lebanon has led to the first armed clash between two rival Druze parties.
Machine guns were used in the clash between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, which took place on Sunday evening in the city of Choueifat, about 5 km south of Beirut.
The two parties’ leaders acted quickly to calm their supporters.
“When politicians plant seeds of hatred and grudges among people, they commit a crime against citizens who have been breaking bread together for centuries,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, the two parties stressed “the need to avoid any steps that could provoke anger among supporters or disturb citizens who look forward to freely exercising their right to vote in an atmosphere of democratic competition.”
The two parties, alongside other parties with supporters in Choueifat, such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Amal Movement, have agreed on “disowning anyone who breaches security, requesting that the security forces intensify their presence in Choueifat, identifying fixed locations until the elections are over, and restraining from carrying out provocative processions.”
Campaigning lasts 24 hours before polling and has seen various kinds of violations of the electoral law.
Several young men from the Sabaa party — a group of independent activists — demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior, carrying banners questioning the ministry’s role in election-related issues.
“Serious violations are taking place because the country is out of control; many are exploiting their positions and pouring (in) their money, and conflicts are happening at grassroots level — people are tearing down photos of candidates and individuals are fighting with one another,” said Gilbert Hobeish on behalf of the demonstrators.
He added: “This is unacceptable, and the minister of interior must take responsibility.”
Hobeish criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission, saying “it only oversees the civil society or change candidates.”
“We reject this in toto,” he said.
Ali Al-Amin, a candidate on the Shbaana Haki electoral list (who was assaulted last Sunday by Hezbollah supporters in the town of Shaqra because he hung his photo outside his house), held a press conference in the town of Nabatiyah Al-Fawqa and renewed his protest against “the tyranny that silences voices, oppresses liberties and acts on its own will and temperaments, making us feel as if we were in the law of the jungle era.”
He said that “resistance isn’t anyone’s property nor is it one party’s ownership.”
He also called on “the free people of the south to decide which life they wanted and to which homeland and identity they belonged.”
Campaign fever is rising in Lebanon 48 hours before the elections are held for the first time for Lebanese communities in several Arab countries. These elections are to be held 11 days before parliamentary elections take place inside Lebanon.