Q and A: What is happening in Syria and what can the UK do to help?

Q What is happening in Syria?

A Hundreds of people are reported to have been killed in a suspected chemical weapons attack last Wednesday, just outside Damascus – the capital of Syria.

Q What has Syria said?

A Almost five days after the alleged attacks, Syria has bowed to pressure and agreed to allow a UN inspection team, already in Syria, to examine the Damascus locations for evidence of the attacks.

Q Isn’t that positive?

A Not necessarily. Chemical weapons experts say the delay was deliberate as it is now likely to be too late for inspectors to gather useful scientific results.

Q Who is behind the attacks?

A No one has come forward, but foreign secretary William Hague has said it was “clear it was the Assad regime” that carried out the attack. If it was not then inspectors would have been admitted immediately after the attack, he says.

Q What will happen now?

A The US, Britain and France have warned of a “serious response”. Prime Minister David Cameron is believed to want action within a week.

Q Doesn’t there need to be a UN resolution before any military intervention?

A Not necessarily. It is believed that action could be justified on either humanitarian grounds, or under international law. The 1925 Geneva Protocol bans the use of chemical attacks. It has been done before. In 1998, the US and its allies bombed Serbia to stop the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo despite there being no UN resolution.

Q What options are available?

A The UK is believed to be considering a range of military responses including air strikes, the imposition of a no-fly zone or arming the rebels in Syria.

Q Are any options preferred?

A Air strikes on established Syrian military operations such as airfields are seen as the most likely option to signal the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.

Q What are the risks of air strikes?

A The danger is that civilians could be killed. But if there is no action then the perception will be that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can do what he likes, including further attacks, without impunity.