THE Prime Minister defended Britain’s missile strikes on Syria yesterday saying the attacks on chemical weapons facilities were legal and justified.
Theresa May, speaking in Downing Street hours after joining the United States and France in the joint military action, said it would have been wrong to have done nothing after Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.
Around 70 people were killed and more than 500 others were injured when the suspected chemical attack took place in the city of Douma last weekend.
The air strikes were launched at 2am yesterday when more than 100 missiles were launched targeting government facilities close to the Syrian capital Damascus.
Britain’s strikes were launched from RAF Akrotiri, in Cyprus, with missiles targeting laboratories and two storage facilities near Homs.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s had been used to launch the attack against a base 15 miles west of the city of Homs.
The GR4s involved in the overnight attack were loaded with Storm Shadow cruise missiles, known as “bunker busters” for their ability to reach targets deep under ground.
The French scrambled Mirage and Rafale fighter jets with four frigate warships, launching 12 cruise missiles.
France also deployed its supersonic Mirage 2000 fighter jets – which have a maximum speed of Mach 2.
The US deployed its B-1B Lancer bombers, launching air cruise missiles to target the chemical weapons sites.
Nicknamed “the Bone”, the B1-B is capable of carrying the most weapons of any modern air force bomber and is prized for its speed, manoeuvrability and long range.
Like the jets deployed by Britain, America and France’s aircraft would not have been required to cross into Syrian airspace to strike.
Mrs May refused to rule out any future strikes, and said the bombing campaign should act as a warning to Syria – and ally Russia – over the use of chemical weapons.
She insisted it was the “right thing for us to do” in the wake of the “harrowing” assault on Douma a week ago.
Mrs May, who also highlighted Russia’s suspected involvement in the chemical attack on a former double agent and his daughter in Salisbury, said the military action was “legal” and defended the decision to go ahead without securing the backing of Parliament.
She said: “There is no graver decision for a prime minister than to commit our forces to combat and this is the first time I have had to do so.
“This collective action sends a clear message that the international community will not stand by and tolerate the use of chemical weapons.
“We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere. The action was focused on degrading and deterring the operational capability and the willingness of the Syrian regime to continue to use chemical weapons.
“But I believe it should also be a message to others that the international community is not going to stand by and allow chemical weapons to be used with impunity.”
French president Emmanuel Macron said there was no doubt the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical attack in Douma, which had crossed “the red line set by France in May 2017”. He added: “We cannot tolerate the trivialisation of the use of chemical weapons, which represent an immediate danger for the Syrian people and for our collective security.”
A short while later, Donald Trump said the mission had been “perfectly executed” and described it as “Mission Accomplished” on social media.
He later tweeted: “So proud of our great Military which will soon be, after the spending of billions of fully approved dollars, the finest that our country has ever had.
“There won’t be anything, or anyone, even close!”
Russia condemned the air strikes and claimed Syria had managed to shoot down 71 of the 103 missiles launched by the US, Britain and France.
Syrian President Assad, meanwhile, said the strikes had only increased his resolve to continue “fighting and crushing” rebel forces.
Assad added he would not change his course of fighting “terrorists in every inch of the nation.”
Earlier the Syrian authorities had posted a video online appearing to show the president arriving for work in Damascus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the air strikes, saying they were an “act of aggression” and that he would convene an emergency meeting of the UN security council.
Russian soldiers have been in Syria since 2015 to support Assad.
In a statement released by the Kremlin, Mr Putin denied evidence existed of any chemical attack and accused Britain of “staging” the attacks themselves.
He added that the actions of Britain, France and the USA would “have a destructive effect on the entire system of international relations”.
Russia’s foreign ministry claimed Syria had been attacked just as it had “a chance for peace”.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, took aim at Britain during a press briefing yesterday, and claimed it had tried to justify the attacks against Syria by making an explicit connection between the air strikes and the poisoning of Russian exiles Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
He also accused Britain of refusing to share information, claiming: “The British colleagues refuse to answer our questions.”
The Syrian civil war started in 2011, when a group of teenagers were arrested and tortured for writing anti-Assad slogans on the wall of a school in the city of Deraa.
The arrests sparked pro-democracy protests across the city, and security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing a number of people.
After this, even more people took to the streets, with thousands calling for President Bashar Assad’s resignation.
He continued to use force and violence against his people and by July 2011, hundreds of thousands of people were protesting all over the country.
The fighting escalated and a full-scale civil war started, with various rebel brigades defending different regions of Syria. In 2012, the fighting reached the capital Damascus and the second largest city Aleppo.
By June 2013, 90,000 people had been killed, and two years later,the death toll was 250,000. The latest figures indicate almost 500,000 have died, while six million men, women and children have been left homeless.
What started as a battle between those for and against Assad has now evolved into sectarian conflict, with some of the Syrian Sunni population turning against the president’s Shia Alawite sect.
The rise of Islamic State has also contributed to the bloodshed and spread of terrorism across the world.
Russia started using military strikes against anti-Assad groups in September 2015.
While Isis is a common enemy of both Russia and America, Russia has supported Assad and provided weapons for his troops, while the USA and UK see the president as a dictator.