Theresa May ‘agrees’ with need for response to Syria attack

Theresa May is under pressure over possible military intervention. Picture: AFP/Getty
Theresa May is under pressure over possible military intervention. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Theresa May has “agreed” in telephone conversations with Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron that the international community “needed to respond” following reports of a suspected chemical attack in Syria.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister spoke to the US and French presidents on Tuesday, and they agreed to “continue working closely together” to ensure those responsible were “held to account”.

The United States is looking to the UK and France for support as it finalises its response to the assault on the rebel-held town of Douma.

President Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron had already agreed to co-ordinate a “strong, joint response” after talks by telephone.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said Mrs May held separate calls with the two leaders and that they agreed the reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria were “utterly reprehensible”.

“They agreed that the international community needed to respond to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

“They agreed they would continue working closely together and with international partners to ensure that those responsible were held to account.”

Mrs May sidestepped questions about whether Britain would be involved in military action during a visit to Cambridge earlier on Tuesday.

She said: “This attack that took place in Douma is a barbaric attack.

READ MORE: Donald Trump promises action in Syria

“Obviously we are working urgently with our allies and partners to assess what has happened on the ground.

“If this is the responsibility of Assad’s regime in Syria then it’s yet another example of the brutality and brazen disregard for their people that they show.

“I spoke this morning to President (Emmanuel) Macron, I will be speaking later today with President (Donald) Trump and the National Security Council meets regularly, and I’ll be chairing a meeting of the National Security Council later today, and we’ll be working with our allies as I say, crucially, to make an assessment of what has happened on the ground.”

The National Security Council brings together relevant intelligence and defence chiefs and Cabinet ministers for top level briefings.

President Trump has said an apparent poison gas attack in Syria will be “met forcefully” and held talks with his military leaders in Washington on Monday night.

Mr Trump did not give a time-frame for any retaliatory action, but said the US could not stand by as such atrocities take place because “we are able to stop it”.

The president’s comments came after Moscow’s ambassador to the UN warned of the potential consequences of Western intervention in Syria.

Vassily Nebenzia said US attacks on Syria “could lead to grave repercussions” during heated exchanges at the UN Security Council.

READ MORE: Russia complains of confrontational policy

US ambassador Nikki Haley accused Russia of having “the blood of Syrian children” on its hands after Mr Trump said that “nothing’s off the table” in dealing with the alleged outrage.

Mr Nebenzia dismissed claims the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons as “fake news” as he called for inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to fly to Syria on Tuesday to visit the site of the attack, which has left at least 40 people, including children, dead.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in February that Britain should consider joining military action against Assad’s regime if there was fresh “incontrovertible” evidence he had used chemical weapons against his own people.

Mr Johnson discussed the situation with acting US secretary of state John Sullivan twice on Monday.

The US State Department said Mr Johnson and his Washington counterpart had discussed “potential further steps the US and UK governments might take in co-ordination with other partners”.

The attack in Douma happened late on Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce with the Army of Islam rebel group.

Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said poison gas was used on the rebel-held town near the capital, an allegation strongly denied by the Assad government.

Families were reportedly found suffocated in their homes and shelters, with foam on their mouths.

Reports suggested more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were taken to medical centres with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and burning sensations in the eyes.

The attack comes almost exactly a year after a chemical atrocity in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people.

That attack prompted the US to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.

Russia and Syria have blamed Israel for an attack on a Syrian military airport on Monday that reportedly killed at least 14 people.