Parliament recalled: over war on Syria

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PARLIAMENT is being recalled tomorrow with prime minister Cameron demanding Labour support for his ‘clear motion’ for military action against Syria.

Downing Street released a statement yesterday saying that contingency plans for military action against Syria are being drawn up and Cameron is chairing a National Security Council meeting of military chiefs and Cabinet Ministers today to finalise military strike plans.

Warplanes and military transporters have been moved to Britain’s Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus and commercial pilots who regularly fly from Larnaca, Cyprus, have reported seeing C-130 transport planes and formations of European fighter jets on their radar screens.

Akrotiri airbase is less than 100 miles from Syria, making it a probable hub for a bombing campaign, with residents near the airfield reporting that ‘activity there has been much higher than normal over the past 48 hours’.

Meanwhile, top military officials from ten Western and Middle Eastern nations – led by US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey and his Jordanian counterpart – met in Amman, Jordan, to discuss military action in Syria.

This follows reports that Dempsey presented military options to the White House over the weekend.

Last Friday it was revealed the US Navy was expanding its Mediterranean presence with a fourth ship capable of launching long-range, subsonic cruise missiles to reach land targets in Syria.

British military assets already near Syria include four warships, the Navy’s flagship HMS Bulwark, a helicopter carrier and two frigates near Albania. Meanwhile France has its jet fighters stationed in the United Arab Emirates.

In a Damascus press conference yesterday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem condemned as ‘a lie’ claims that Syria had used chemical weapons against its own citizens, saying: ‘No country in the world uses weapons of mass destruction against its own people.’

He rejected claims that Syria had delayed the UN inspectors’ probe of the Ghouta site of the alleged attack.

‘The UN team did not ask to go to the site until Saturday,’ said Muallem, stressing that government permission was granted on Sunday.

Muallem warned that Syria will fight off Western military strikes with ‘surprise’ defences.

‘We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal. The second choice is the best: we will defend ourselves.’

Muallem warned: ‘Syria is not an easy case. We have defences which will surprise others,’ adding that he was confident Russia would not abandon Damascus.

‘I can assure you that Russia has not abandoned Syria. Our relations continue in all fields, and we thank Russia for its support.’

Muallem declared that western attacks on Syria would benefit Israel and al-Qaeda terrorist groups in the Middle East.

‘The war effort led by the United States and their allies will serve the interests of Israel and, secondly, the Al-Nusra Front’ – an Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist group in Syria.

He challenged Western states to present evidence that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons.

‘We are hearing war drums around us. If they want to launch an attack against Syria, I think using the excuse of chemical weapons is not true at all. I challenge them to show what proof they have,’ Muallem said.

The minister also said foreign military intervention in the country would not stop the government’s campaign against rebels.

‘If they think they can stop the victory of our armed forces like that, they are wrong,’ he stressed.