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Labour 'could oppose Syria action'

Source BBC News@ tienganhvui.com


The body of a victim of a suspected chemical weapons attack is lowered into a grave in Hamoria, Damascus (21 August 2013)The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons and blames rebel fighters



Labour says it has yet to decide whether to support the government in a crucial Commons vote on Thursday on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.


The opposition said the UK's decision to put forward a UN Security Council resolution condemning last week's attack was a "necessary step".


But it said other criteria must be met, including getting "all the relevant evidence" from UN weapons inspectors.


David Cameron has said the UN must "live up to its responsibilities".


The UN resolution, to be discussed later on Wednesday, authorises "all necessary measures" to be taken to protect civilians from chemical weapons attacks.


It comes as the US, UK and other allies considers military action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, who, they say, was responsible for last week's attack in Damascus.


Separately, MPs will debate the crisis on Thursday and vote on the UK's response. The government will publish the motion to debated later.


Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said Labour wanted to see evidence from the government that the Assad government was responsible for the attacks and wanted UN inspectors who are still at work in Damascus to be able to bring their evidence to the Security Council.


His party also needed to be reassured that any intervention would be legal, based on clear military objectives and that the UN Security Council had been directly consulted.


"It's on that basis that we will form a judgement as to whether to support a motion in the House of Commons, but I can assure you that judgement has not yet been reached because all of the relevant information is not yet in our possession," he told the BBC.


The BBC understands the government motion will urge "appropriate measures" in response to the use of chemical weapons but no set out any specific military options or a timetable for action.


'Achievable goals'

The Syrian regime has blamed rebels for the attack but Downing St says the UK and US were "in no doubt that the Assad regime was responsible" and the use chemical weapons - banned under international agreements - cannot be ignored.


Labour leader Ed Miliband told No 10 on Tuesday evening that they should pursue a "UN moment" in order to try to secure the widest possible international support for any action.


Mr Miliband faces concerns from within his own party, with shadow health minister Diane Abbott saying the UK risked being "stampeded into bombing Syria without any thought about the end game".


Amid reports she might be forced to resign from Labour's front bench, if her party supported a motion backing the use of force in Syria she told the BBC: "If the motion is a blank cheque for military action, it would put some of us in a very difficult position."



The prime minister has said Parliament needs to consider whether action is required to prevent the future use of such weapons in Syria and to deter other countries from using them.


Military options or a timetable for action are not expected to be set out in the Commons motion for MPs to debate on Thursday when it is published later.


"It will call on the need for action to deter the use of chemical weapons around the world," a government source told the BBC.


But BBC political editor Nick Robinson said there was a growing feeling in Whitehall that action - most likely to be a one-off or limited guided missile strikes from US Navy warships - may take place on selected targets before Monday.


Conservative doubts

Conservative MPs will be whipped to support the measure, meaning ministers will be expected to support the government or face having to resign. Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has suggested this is an "abuse of power" and MPs should be allowed a free vote.


There is unease on Tory backbenches about any intervention in the bitter two-year conflict in Syria.


Earlier this summer, more than 80 Conservative MPs signed a letter demanding a Parliamentary debate and vote on any deepening of the UK's involvement in Syria beyond providing technical assistance to opposition groups fighting the government.


Former minister Crispin Blunt said there was no firm evidence to indicate who carried out the apparent chemical attack against civilians on the outskirts of Damascus - and some people believed rebel forces were behind it.


Conservative Douglas Carswell told the Daily Telegraph he was thinking of voting against any strikes while colleague Andrew Bridgen called on the attorney general to publish his advice to ministers on the legality of such a move.


War powers

Although Deputy PM Mr Clegg has insisted the action being contemplated is very different to the 2003 ground invasion of Iraq, which his party opposed, his predecessor as Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell has raised concerns.


The Commons voted on UK military intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, but there is no legal obligation for the government to get parliamentary approval before committing British forces.


The prime minister has the final say on deploying British troops in conflicts, using Royal Prerogative powers.


The Assad government has accused the US of using the chemical attack as an "inaccurate excuse" to try and change the balance of the military struggle in the country.





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