Britain’s May Calls Cabinet Meeting as UK and U.S. Edge Closer to Syria Strikes

British Prime Minister will convene a special “war cabinet” on Thursday as the UK prepares to join tripartite military action against the Syrian regime, following its apparent use of chemical weapons, Sky News reports. The Cabinet is expected to be asked to approve a form of British participation in action led by France and the U.S., aimed at Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s chemical weapons infrastructure. It comes after a suspected chemical attack on the Syrian city of Douma, eastern Ghouta, reportedly killed 70 people and injured 500 at the weekend.

The U.S. military is preparing options for Donald Trump to strike Syria, after the President warned Russia to “get ready” because missiles “will be coming”. It appears Parliament will not be consulted ahead of possible UK action, which could start within hours of Cabinet approval. That will prove controversial, after opposition parties demanded the Government respects a recent convention that the House of Commons approves UK military intervention.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday that MPs “should always be given a say on military action”.

“That’s a case that I’ve made going back many, many years in Parliament. “Obviously the situation is very serious, obviously there has to be, now, a demand for a political process to end the war in Syria. We cannot risk an escalation even further than it’s gone already,” he added.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said President al Assad had crossed “a clear red line”, but also demanded the Government “present the objectives of any proposed action to Parliament”.

“A unilateral response by any country, outside of a wider strategy, without allies, is not the way forward. There must be a debate and vote in the House of Commons ahead of any military action,” he said.

A senior Tory revealed to Sky News the Prime Minister cannot be certain of getting the numbers, in any vote, and needed to tread carefully on the legal underpinning of any intervention. But, the direction of travel of Government policy is that Mrs May will seek Cabinet pre-approval for this new military involvement, rather than from the House of Commons, therefore backing away from a convention set since the controversial 2003 Iraq War.

Meanwhile, Evening Standard reports that UK submarines have reportedly been moved to within striking range of Syria in preparation for possible military action against Bashar Assad’s regime. It came as the Prime Minister called for ministers to gather in Downing Street today to discuss the UK’s response to suspected poison gas attacks near Damascus.

Mrs May had declared that “all the indications” suggested Assad’s forces were responsible for the alleged chemical strike that left dozens dead in the town of Douma on Saturday. And cruise missiles have now been positioned within striking range of the country as speculation over a US-led response continued to mount, according to reports. Mrs May has not reached a final decision on whether Britain would join any strikes by the US and France in response to the suspected attack. But the Telegraph reported overnight that she had ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria in readiness for strikes against the Syrian military.

The White House National Security team will also meet later Thursday, a source told CNN. It’s not known if Trump will attend the meeting but he made his views clear in a Twitter tirade earlier Wednesday, warning Moscow to “get ready” for missiles launched at Syria.

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’,” Trump said. “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

The U.S. President added that the U.S. relationship with Russia “is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.” Trump has discussed possible options on Syria with both French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Macron has said that any French strikes against the Syrian regime would target chemical facilities, and a British government official told CNN Wednesday that preparations are being made for possible action, but cautioned a political decision has not yet been made. It is unclear whether May would bring Syria action to a vote in Parliament.

Any potential strike against Syria could be carried out by extensive US and UK military assets already in the region, including two US Navy destroyers armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles. British media reported Wednesday that May has also ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria. At least two airlines, Kuwait Airways and Middle East Airlines, have redirected flights and changed routes due to security concerns.

CNBC quoted the White House saying on Wednesday that President Donald Trump has not laid out timetable for action in response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria, despite his note on Twitter that missiles “will be coming” and Russia should “get ready.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump had a number of options, not just military, that all options were still on the table and he was assessing how to respond. She said Trump held Russia and Syria responsible for the chemical attack and denied that his Twitter comments had created any problem.

In Syria, there are reports that forces allied with the Syrian government have been relocating from various military sites and bases in anticipation of a possible attack, ABC News reports. A U.K.-based Syrian monitor says that troops have been emptying airports and bases, while opposition fighters have told Sky News Arabia that government-allied forces have been retreating from some positions and moving equipment.

In the wider region, a Russian news agency is reporting that the Russian navy is conducting military exercises close to the coast of Syria. Starting on Wednesday and continuing Thursday, the exercises mean that airspace above Russian vessels in the Mediterranean will be closed due to live fire, according to Interfax.