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UK parliament debates Syrian air strikes

The UK House of Commons has debated the potential extension of its counter-terrorism air strike campaign from Iraq into Syria, following an extremist attack in Tunisia on 26 June during which British citizens were killed.

It was decided by the Commons in September that the Royal Air Force would join a coalition effort to carry out strikes in Iraq against Islamic State (IS) militants, but Prime Minister David Cameron claimed at the time the UK would not participate in Syrian attacks unless it was approved by the Commons through a vote.

Whether or not this vote will be brought forward remains to be seen, but Michael Fallon, defence secretary, implied to the Commons that this is the plan of the Conservative government, using the attack in Tunisia and parallel violence in France and Kuwait on the same day as reasons for further intervention.

“It was a day of terror that offers a chilling reminder that the world we live in is a darker place,” Fallon told the Commons on 2 July. “It now looks like it was an [IS]-inspired plot.”

Fallon added that it has been concluded the perpetrators of the Tunisia attack “organised from northern Syria”.

Syria is a politically sensitive area for the UK. Although it recognises that the incumbent Assad regime has committed human rights violations, a move to intervene in Syria against this was vetoed by the government in 2013.

“This is a new parliament and this is something to consider carefully,” Fallon adds. “Our position remains that we would come to the house for approval before carrying out strikes [in Syria].”

Until now the RAF has supported the coalition strikes in Syria by providing surveillance to those missions, but has not carried out any strikes itself.

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Opposition shadow defence secretary for Labour, Vernon Coaker, added: “We stand ready to work with the government and will carefully consider a proposal.

“This is the time for a considered assessment of the best course to take.”

Furthermore, Fallon notes that the RAF has carried out some 1,000 missions and 300 strikes in Iraq, with 30% of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance being carried out by the UK.

Aircraft that have been deployed by the RAF include: the Boeing E-3D Sentry airborne early warning and control aircraft; the Raytheon Sentinel R1; the Panavia Tornado GR4; the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air vehicle; the Airbus A330 Voyager air-to-air tanker; and the Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint signals intelligence aircraft.

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