NEWS
11/04/2018 12:08 BST | Updated 12/04/2018 12:00 BST

Theresa May Calls Syria 'War Cabinet' As Donald Trump Tells Russia: 'Get Ready'

Prime Minister's language toughens over blaming Assad regime.

  • Donald Trump sends incendiary tweet warning Russia that missiles “will be coming” to Syria in response to chemical attack allegedly carried out by the Assad Regime

  • Russia condemns threat and announces it will send troops to Douma, where the attack took place

  • Syria condemns Trump’s “reckless” tweet, Pentagon declines to comment on what Trump’s threat could mean militarily 

  • Theresa May says “all the indications” are that the Assad regime was responsible for attack as she summons an emergency meeting of the Cabinet

Theresa May has called an emergency ‘War Cabinet’ to discuss the crisis over Syria as Donald Trump signalled the United States was ready to launch air strikes against the regime of Bashar Assad.

The Prime Minister called senior ministers to gather in Downing Street on Thursday after declaring “all the indications” were that the regime was responsible for a chemical strike on its own people last weekend.

The Ministry of Defence refused to comment on reports that Royal Navy submarines had been ordered into range to launch Tomahawk cruise missile  strikes as early as Thursday night.

“We don’t comment on submarine movements,” a spokesman said.

Russia and the United States appear to be on a collision course after Trump warned that missiles “will be coming” to Syria, while Moscow said it will deploy troops to the town at the centre of Saturday’s purported chemical attack.

Trump wrote in an incendiary early morning tweet on Wednesday that the missiles would be “nice and new and smart!”, after a Russian official said any strike in retaliation to the attack on the rebel-held town of Douma would be shot down.

“Get ready Russia,” the president said. “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

Moscow responded immediately, saying “smart missiles should fly towards terrorists, not legal governments”, before the Russian military revealed it would deploy troops to Douma.

In a day of fast-paced international diplomacy, Theresa May also said the “continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged” and that Britain will work with its “closest allies” to see how those responsible for the latest attack in Syria can be held to account.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs suggested that any US strike could be an attempt to destroy evidence of the chemical attack. 

Trump quickly changed gear, tweeting we should “stop the arms race” and complaining relations with Russia were bad because of the investigation into his campaign’s alleged links to the country, all within two hours of his first tweet.

The Syrian government called his threats to attack “reckless”, claiming they endanger international peace and security, a report broadcast on state TV said.

The Pentagon refused to comment further on potential future military operations in response to Trump’s tweet. 

“The department does not comment on potential future military actions. I refer you to the White House to characterise the president’s tweet,” a Pentagon spokesman said.

“As the President noted on April 8, the chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime against innocent civilians in Duma, Syria on April 7 was horrifying, and demands an immediate response from the international community,” he added.

Trump’s latest threat is a response to comments made by Alexander Zasypkin, Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, who on Tuesday evening said Russia would respond to any US strike on Syri by targeting any missiles and launchers. 

“If there is a strike by the Americans, then ... the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.

Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally in the years-long civil war against rebel groups. 

The regime has been accused of using chemical weapons against civilians, most recently in the attack on Douma that killed at least 42 people.

Bassam Khabieh / Reuters
The chemical attack took place in the rebel-held town of Syria

The World Health Organisation said on Wednesday around 500 people had been treated for “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals” after the Douma attack.

“In particular, there were signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed,” the United Nations health agency said.

The attack at the weekend led to widespread condemnation, as May agreed with Trump and French president Emmanuel Macron that the international community “needed to respond” following the suspected attack.

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

One Tory backbencher, who voted against military intervention in Syria in 2013, said she now supports bombing the regime without a parliamentary vote.

She was one of 30 Conservative MPs to reject possible UK military action against Syria to deter the use of chemical weapons, after a vote was called by the then-Prime Minister David Cameron. 

“I would be happy for Parliament to be recalled but the PM does have the option to go ahead without this,” Dr Sarah Wollaston told HuffPost.

Asked whether she was concerned by President Trump’s most recent tweet on Syria, Theresa May said: “We are working with our allies, we have been working to get an understanding of what happened on the ground.

“We are rapidly reaching that understanding.

“All the indications are that the Syrian regime was responsible and we will be working with our closest allies on how we can ensure that those who are responsible are held to account and how we can prevent and deter the humanitarian catastrophe that comes from the use of chemical weapons in the future.

“The continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged.”

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Assad’s government had been asked to make necessary arrangements for an OPCW investigation team to visit shortly.

US stock index futures fell sharply on Wednesday amid rising tension between Russia and America.

Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities in New York said the escalation of the situation in Syria “is impacting ... it could escalate to greater military conflict.”