Caroline Flint

Standing up for Don Valley.

Syria and Chemical Weapons

The chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria on 7 April 2018 has been widely reported.  Here is my response:

I have been contacted by constituents about the horrendous chemical weapons attack on the residential neighbourhood of Douma and the UK response. The initial reports of over 70 dead; and people found in their homes foaming at the mouth and with chemical burns on their eyes was truly shocking.

The video footage, and first-hand accounts of NGOs and aid workers, plus reports from a local charity-run hospital, suggests that these accounts could not be falsified on this scale.

This attack was a war crime; in breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention, and the responsibility points directly to the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.

Predictably, the Syrian authorities and the Russians have sought to delay inspectors attending the scene; local hospital doctors have been detained; evacuees have been searched for evidence; and a hasty cover-up attempted.

Assad has used chemical weapons on at least three occasions before in 2017, and 2013. In 2013, 800 people were killed in Ghouta, following 14 smaller-scale attacks; and three further chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015. In 2017, around 100 people were killed in an attack using sarin at Khan Shaykhun.

The evidence overwhelmingly points to the Assad regime.

When UN inspectors went into Damascus in 2013 to investigate an earlier chemical attack, the Assad regime at first banned the inspectors from the area, and then bombed the neighbourhood and used snipers to try to disrupt the inspectors.

On that occasion, the UK Parliament voted against any military action; but the Syrian regime committed to dismantle its chemical weapons programme; guaranteed by Russia. This path clearly did not work.

On each occasion, Russia has blocked attempts through the UN Security Council to hold the Assad regime to account – on six occasions since 2017.

Discussing this horrific attack, on Any Questions before the UK, USA, France military action, I expressed disappointment that Parliament had not been recalled, although and argued that parliament did need to hear from the UK Prime Minister.
The questions I said should be answered included:

What the evidence is? What the objective is of any intervention by the UK should be? If it is to be of a military nature how that might happen, how might it be targeted? Finally, what is the end game - where we need to get to with regard to Syria?

The Prime Minister addressed those points in her statement.

The Evidence – including eye witness accounts from NGOs and aid-workers, confirmed an attack with a chlorine type substance – now thought to be chlorine enhanced with a nerve agent.

The Objective – was to target facilities associated with chemical weapons storage; and research centres; all of which avoided civilian populations.

The Targeting – was using guided missiles with precise targeting. The UK tornados used Storm Shadow cruise missiles.

The legal basis, which the UK has used before to justify action in Kosovo and when we created a No-Fly Zone over Northern Iraq, was to prevent humanitarian distress. If the international community could not respond, even to use of chemical weapons on civilians, without Russia’s permission at the UN Security Council, we would have all policy held to the will of Putin and Russia’s interests. That is not acceptable.

I hope the Chemical Weapons Inspectors can complete their task, despite attempts to obstruct them and I hope that international pressure can lead to a cease fire in Syria, so that a settlement can be brokered in the interests of the millions of displaced Syrian people, who wish to return to a safe home.

On balance, I believe the UK action was justified but, as stated, I regret that Parliament was not consulted earlier.


Caroline Flint

18 April 2018

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