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Armed Conflicts

UK Publishes Legal Backing for Syria Strike

DOHA, Aug 29 2013 - The British government has published internal legal advice which it said showed it was legally entitled to take military action against Syria, even if the United Nations Security Council blocked such action.

It also published intelligence material on Thursday on last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, saying there was no doubt that such an attack had taken place.

The document is the latest sign that a coalition of Western countries, including the United States, France and the UK, are moving towards military action against Syria after the alleged attack. It was “highly likely” that the Syrian government was behind the attack, the document said.

“If action in the Security Council is blocked, the UK would still be permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria,” a copy of the British government’s legal position read.

In such circumstances, it added that “military intervention to strike specific targets with the aim of deterring and disrupting further such attacks would be necessary and proportionate and therefore legally justifiable”.

In a debate on Thursday, however, Prime Minister David Cameron told the British parliament it was “unthinkable” that Britain would launch military action against Syria if there was strong opposition at the Security Council.

“It would be unthinkable to proceed if there was overwhelming opposition in the Security Council,” he said.

Syria defiant

Earlier on Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that his country would defend itself against any foreign military intervention.

“Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression, and threats will only increase its commitment to its principles and its independence,” the embattled Syrian leader told a visiting delegation of Yemeni politicians, according to state media.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that the United States had “concluded” that the Syrian government had carried out a chemical attack. Obama advocated the use of a “tailored, limited” military strike in response.

He was referring to an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus Eastern Ghouta suburbs last week that aid agencies say killed at least 355 people, and injured as many as 3,000 others.

“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,” Obama said in the televised interview. But he did not present any direct evidence to back up his assertion, and the government has strongly denied accusations that it was involved.


Arguing for measured intervention after long resisting deeper involvement in Syria, Obama insisted that while Assad’s government must be punished, he intended to avoid repeating the errors made in the 2003 Iraq war.

The most likely option, U.S. officials say, would be to launch cruise missiles from U.S. ships in the Mediterranean in a campaign that would last several days.

New hurdles have, however, emerged that appear to have slowed the formation of an international coalition that could use military force to hit Syria.

On Wednesday, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council failed to reach an agreement on a draft resolution from the British seeking authorisation for the use of force.

Russia objected to international intervention, after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier rejected the case for ascribing culpability to the Syrian government at this time, adding that foreign military intervention would lead to “destabilisation of […] the country and the region”.

Chinese state media on Thursday said that any military intervention “would have dire consequences for regional security and violate the norms governing international relations”.

Published under an agreement with Al Jazeera.

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