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Christian charities call on government not to rush into military action in Syria

Cafod, Christian Aid and Open Doors are all warning of the humanitarian consequences if action is taken against war-torn Syria for an alleged chemical weapons attack.

MPs are in Parliament debating Britain's response to the crisis, but they won't be called on to authorise military action, after a political retreat by the government. During the House of Commons discussion David Cameron said Britain needs to do the right thing.

He said:

"It is not about taking sides in the Syrian conflict, it is not about invading, it is not about regime change, or even working more closely with the opposition.

"It is about the large scale use of chemical weapons and our response to a war crime.

"The evidence that the Syrian regime has used these weapons in the early hours of the 21st August is right in front of our eyes.

"We have multiple eye witness accounts of chemical filled rockets being used against opposition controlled areas."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has admitted that he's "wrestling" with the decision of whether to back military action.

He said:

"It is simply about intervening on humanitarian grounds to deter the use of chemical weapons again.

"I don't want to be part of a generation of politicians who when faced by this terrible threat in effect shrugged our shoulders and said we couldn't do anything about it."

While Labour leader Ed Miliband's hinted he may not support even a watered down version of a government resolution:

"I'm determined we learn the lessons of the past, including Iraq and we can't have the House of Commons being asked to write a blank cheque for military action."

Naomi Long MP, who is a Christian and Alliance Party Deputy Leader, told Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour that Parliament needs to discuss how effective any strikes will be.

Christian Aid believes a political solution is the only way to achieve lasting peace for the Syrian people.

Its Head of Middle East Janet Symes said:

"We urge the UK Government, and the international community to work through the UN to bring all parties to the table and negotiate a peaceful resolution and a swift resumption of the Geneva peace process.

"If an airstrike is announced, the number of people fleeing Syria will increase dramatically, with catastrophic effects on the already desperate humanitarian situation in neighboring countries, such as Lebanon and Iraq.

"An escalation in military engagement is likely to worsen an already precarious humanitarian situation; leading to more civilian casualties and further destruction of infrastructure.  

"It has the potential to jeopardise humanitarian access without bringing an end to the conflict any closer."

 Nick Harrop from Catholic charity Cafod told Premier's Marcus Jones on the News Hour that military action isn't the right way to go about things.

 Leaders from the Methodist Church in Britain, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed Church are also urging MPs to resist a hasty response. A joint statement said: "Syria has experienced a cycle of violence for too long. We pray that our nation's response will be guided by the desire to achieve peace and urge our leaders to work with as wide as possible a range of regional partners and with the United Nations."

 President of the Methodist Conference Revd Ruth Gee tells Premier's Marcus Jones why they're making a stand:

 The government has also announced it would be legal to take military action in Syria, even if the UN Security Council blocked action. Downing Street revealed the legal position saying it would be "humanitarian intervention."  The legal document states: "The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is a serious crime of international concern, as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on use of chemical weapons, and amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity.  "However, the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons." The UK Intelligence Committee says it's "highly likely" the Syrian government's behind last week's chemical attack.

The Syrian Government has denied it is responsible for a suspected chemical attack near Damascus on August 21st, blaming opposition forces. It has also written a letter to all British MPs urging them to stop the rush to reckless action saying a strike will only aid al-Qaeda. 

 Anti-persecution charity Open Doors has written a letter to the Prime Minister, stating: "We have been clear that while an end to the crisis is vital for the sake of all the people of Syria, Open Doors has committed itself to speak up on behalf of the Christians in Syria in particular.  "You are on record as saying that Britain is a Christian country. I had the humbling privilege of spending time with church leaders from Syria on a visit to Lebanon a few weeks ago.  "One, completely unprompted, urged me to tell my government how dangerous it would be if the West became militarily involved in the crisis. He said, 'through meddling in our internal affairs what is happening is that the militias and people on the ground see these countries as Christian countries, they don't know any different and so we are the ones that take the brunt of it'.  "I have written to ensure that the voice of Christians in Syria is not forgotten." Bishop Antoine Audo, the Director of Caritas Syria, said: "If there is an armed intervention, that would mean, I believe, a world war.  "That risk has returned. We hope that the Pope's call for real dialogue between the warring parties to find a solution can be a first step to stop the fighting." Father Simon Faddoul from Caritas Lebanon said: "It is a very critical time for Syria and Lebanon.  "Any possible strike could impact Lebanon directly, with 1.5 million refugees on our soil and an open border that is impossible to close. We certainly pray peace will reign." In other developments, Britain's sent six Typhoon jets to protect military bases in Cyprus. And, UN weapons inspectors are due to finish their work on Friday and will report directly to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday.  The World Council of Churches (WCC) is calling on the UN to fulfil its responsibility to protect Syrians. A statement from WCC General Secretary Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit said: "It is absolutely unconscionable that chemical weapons may have found their way into the conflict in Syria. "As a worldwide fellowship of churches, including churches in Syria which have suffered greatly in the war, we roundly condemn the use of chemical weapons under any circumstances by either side. "These last few days have shown again the brutality of this war, in which the innocent and ordinary people of Syria are paying an unbearable price. "I appeal to the UN and international community to work cooperatively for a negotiated political means to find a peaceful end to this conflict." Nearly 1,300 people died from what appears to have been a gas attack on August 21st, in a suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus. Already, more than 100,000 people have died in the two-year civil war, while almost 2 million have become refugees outside Syria, of whom one million are children, and 1.5 million are displaced inside Syria.  Half of those refugees and displaced people are under age 18, according to aid agency reports. Hundreds have gone missing and been kidnapped, including two bishops, Archbishop Mar Yohanna Gregorios Ibrahim from the Syriac Orthodox Church, and Archbishop Paul Yazigi from the Greek Orthodox Church, and three priests, the latest being Jesuit Father Paolo Dall'Oglio.

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