The situation in Syria and the surrounding area is catastrophic—at least 100,000 people have been killed and 2 million have been forced to flee the country, with the refugee camp at Zaatari alone containing an estimated 130,000 people, half of whom are under 18. It is difficult to ensure that aid reaches those still inside Syria—in some areas, it is impossible—or even to know their situation. Over the past two years, the international community has stood on the sidelines. Some countries, including the United Kingdom, have provided funds and resources for the refugees in the surrounding countries, but the numbers leaving Syria get larger by the day, as we have seen recently with the thousands crossing into the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
Many countries say that the situation in Syria is difficult and that intervention from outside would make it worse, and we have heard that argument time and time again today. However, the situation has got progressively worse without intervention. Are there any signs that it will get better? It is beyond question that everyone here would prefer a negotiated diplomatic solution to the crisis, but despite the considerable efforts of many, including the Foreign Secretary, all attempts at obtaining a United Nations Security Council resolution to try to secure that have proved impossible. It is clear that any moves at the UN would be vetoed by Moscow and Beijing. Russian and Chinese support for Assad means that there is little incentive for him to make meaningful concessions or even to discuss a ceasefire. But now the use of chemical weapons has escalated the crisis. The Joint Intelligence Committee has confirmed today that the Syrian regime has used lethal chemical weapons on 14 occasions since 2012, and the world has done nothing. However, last week’s large attack has led to international condemnation and, I believe, a determination to do something.
Some argue that last week there was not a chemical attack and a few say that such an attack was carried out by someone other than the Assad regime, but I believe Assad to be responsible. I accept the judgment of the Joint Intelligence Committee. It has concluded that
“there are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility.”
We have known for years—this is by Assad’s own admission—that Syria has chemical weapons. Intelligence leads us to believe that they can be delivered on a variety of platforms. To those who are not persuaded by the need to relieve the humanitarian crisis and who say, “Intervention has nothing to do with us; it will play into the hands of al-Qaeda”, I say that the reverse is true. We can and must intervene.