Possibility of US airstrikes in Syria loom as Washington readies UN vote

Catherine Neilan
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Many of the victims in the attack were children (Source: Getty)

The possibility of US-led airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria appeared to grow overnight, as Washington plans to bring forward a vote in the United Nations today.

The vote - for a new inquiry into responsibility for use of chemical weapons in Douma after the weekend's apparent attack - is likely to be vetoed by Syrian ally Russia, diplomatic sources speaking to Reuters said.

"This is basically a diplomatic set-up,” said Richard Gowan, the U.N. expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations. "Russia will inevitably veto the U.S. resolution criticising Assad, and Washington will use this to justify military strikes,” he said. “A breakdown at the U.N. will also make it easier for France to justify strikes.”

Yesterday Theresa May warned both Syria and Russia that they would be "held to account" if the regime was found to be behind the attack in which at least 48 people, many of them children, are thought to have died.

She said the attack fitted "into a troubling wider pattern of acts of aggression and abuse of long-standing international norms on counter-proliferation and the use of chemical weapons", noting that Russia’s "repeated veto at the UN enabled these rules to be broken and removed mechanism that allow us to investigate and hold to account chemical weapons attacks in Syria".

Last night the UN Security Council met to discuss the attack, with US ambassador Nikki Haley saying “The world must see justice done".

Russian representative Vassily Nebenzia argued the incident in Douma was staged and that US military action in response could have "grave repercussions".

But Haley said Russia had the "blood of Syrian children" on its hands.

Calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a "monster", she added that whatever action the UN decided to take, "either way, the United States will respond".

"Meetings are ongoing, important decisions are being weighed even as we speak," she said.

Reuters reports that Haley said she planned to put the draft resolution to a vote on Tuesday (today).

A number of MPs are thought to back military intervention, with Tom Tugendhat, who heads up the Foreign Affairs Committee, and former army captain Johnny Mercer both calling for a robust response to the weekend's attacks.

According to The Times, ministers including foreign secretary Boris Johnson have also been pushing for the UK to join a US-led response.

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