3 Dec 2015

UK starts bombing IS in Syria

5:48 pm on 3 December 2015

RAF Tornado jets have carried out their first air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria, the UK's Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

The strikes came just hours after MPs voted in favour of UK air strikes in Syria.

MPs voted by 397 to 223 in favour of launching air strikes after more than 10 hours of debate.

Four Tornado jets took off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus shortly after the vote.

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking House of Commons in central London on December 2, 2015 during the debate on a motion to join air strikes on Islamic State (IS) group targets in Syria.

Prime Minister David Cameron during the debate. Photo: AFP / PRU

Two of the four Tornados landed back in Cyprus just over three hours later.

The BBC said they had left RAF Akrotiri with three 500lb Paveway bombs each and returned to base without those weapons.

The Ministry of Defence was expected to give details of their targets later on Thursday,

A total of 66 Labour MPs sided with the government as Mr Cameron secured a larger than expected Commons majority.

The UK has been bombing in Iraq for more than a year and British Prime Minister David Cameron had urged MPs to back extending air strikes to Syria to target militants he said were plotting attacks on the West.

Though a number of Mr Cameron's Conservative Party MPs opposed the move, he had been expected to win, helped by votes of some Labour MPs, the Liberal Democrats and the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party).

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had abandoned attempts to impose his opposition to military action on Labour and allowed his MPs a free vote.

The UK will join others such as France, the US and Russia in bombing targets in Syria.

Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn (left) speaking in the House of Commons during the debate on whether the UK should begin bombing IS targets in Syria.

Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn (left) speaks during the House of Commons debate. Photo: AFP / PRU

As Mr Cameron set out his case for war he was interrupted by opponents demanding he apologise for suggesting in a private meeting that those against air strikes were "terrorist sympathisers". He declined to apologise, but said there was "honour" in voting for or against military action.

Mr Cameron called on MPs to "answer the call from our allies" and take action against the "woman-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters" of IS, who he warned were "plotting to kill us and to radicalise our children right now".

He said MPs faced a simple question: "Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands from where they are plotting to kill British people, or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?"

The prime minister also defended his controversial claim that there were 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria, saying it was the estimate of the Joint Intelligence Committee - the UK's senior intelligence body.

He said the majority were members of the Free Syrian Army and that there were a further 20,000 Kurdish fighters with whom Britain could also work. He told MPs the forces were "not ideal, not as many as we would like, but they are people we can work with".

During the marathon parliamentary session, Mr Corbyn said the Prime Minister's case did not stack up.

"It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the prime minister understands public opposition to his ill thought-out rush to war is growing - and wants to hold the vote before it slips from his hands.

"Whether it's the lack of a strategy worth the name, the absence of credible ground troops, the missing diplomatic plan for a Syrian settlement, the failure to address the impact on the terrorist threat or the refugee crisis and civilian casualties.

"It's become increasingly clear that the prime minister's proposals for military action simply do not stack up."

He disputed Mr Cameron's claim about ground troops, saying it was "quite clear there are no such forces" and only extremists would take advantage of the strikes against IS.

Anti-war protesters outside the UK parliament as MPs debated whether approve bombing raids on Syria.

Anti-war protesters outside the UK parliament as MPs debated whether approve bombing raids on Syria Photo: AFP

Three former Labour ministers - Alan Johnson, Dame Margaret Beckett and Yvette Cooper - made speeches in favour of extending military action.

Mr Johnson, a former home secretary, said he believed IS had to be "confronted and destroyed if we are to properly defend our country and our way of life".

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham and former Labour leader Ed Miliband said they would vote against air strikes.

A number of Conservative rebels spoke out against the prime minister's position. Former shadow home secretary David Davis said allied air strikes against IS targets had achieved the "opposite" of their intended effect and the number of recruits to Daesh had doubled to 30,000 since they began - "one extra recruit for every target".

- BBC / Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs