Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Britain should consider military action against the Syrian regime if there is fresh “incontrovertible” evidence that chemical weapons have been used against civilians.
He told the BBC he believed the use of illegal weapons should not go unpunished, adding that a short pause in fighting – ordered by Russia – to allow civilians to flee and aid to be delivered, is “not enough.”
More than 500 people have been killed since last week in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, where activists reported a suspected poison gas attack.
Johnson said that while the West could not intervene to change the odds in favour of the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, he believed the use of illegal weapons had to be confronted.
“It’s very important to recognise there’s no military solution that we in the West can now impose,” he said. “The people listening to us in Eastern Ghouta cannot get the idea that the West is going to intervene to change the odds dramatically in their favour.
“But what I think we need to ask ourselves as a country – and I think what we in the West need to ask ourselves – is can we allow the use of chemical weapons, the use of these illegal weapons to go unreprieved, unchecked, unpunished? And I don’t think we can.”
He stressed: “If there is incontrovertible evidence of the use of chemical weapons, verified by the Office of the Prevention of Chemical Weapons – if we know that it’s happened and we can demonstrate it, and if there is a proposal for action where the UK could be useful, then I think we should seriously consider it.”
Fighting continued in Eastern Ghouta during the first daily five-hour “pause” while air and artillery strikes closed the “humanitarian corridor.”
Around 393,000 people are trapped in the enclave near Damascus, which has been besieged by the government since 2013. Medics say more than 500 people have been killed since the government intensified its bombardment.
Meanwhile, France has urged Russia to use its influence over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to secure a 30-day truce covering the whole country.
The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding a nationwide cessation of hostilities on Saturday February 24, but it did not specify a start date. “Russia is one of the only actors that can get the regime to implement the resolution,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at a meeting in Moscow.