British bombers return to Cyprus base after Syria sortie

British bombers return to Cyprus base after Syria sortie
Tornado war planes have returned - without their missile payload - hours after the green light for air raids in Syria was given by the UK parliament.
4 min read
03 December, 2015
Protests are taking part outside parliament as MPs vote on military action [Getty]

Tornado jets have returned to their Cyprus base following the UK's first offensive on Islamic State group targets inside Syria, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

It comes hours after the UK parliament voted in favour of expanding the war against IS into Syria.

An unnamed spokesman for the ministry said the war planes were involved in the "first offensive operation over Syria and have conducted strikes".

British jet fighters had been on standby at a Royal Air Force base in Cyprus, while parliament debated the issue during a gruelling 11-hour session.

Parliament approved expanding the UK's ongoing military operations into Syria with 397 "yes" votes to 223 "no" votes.

"The whole house recognises that sending British forces to war are the most serious, solemn and morally challenging decisions that we have to take as members of parliament," said opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

"It is [a decision] with potentially far-reaching consequences for us all here in Britain, as well as the people in Syria and the wider Middle East."

Case for war

Prime Minister David Cameron and his goverment had put forward the case for bombing IS positions in Syria.

Britain is already engaged in the US-led coalition aerial assault on IS territories in Iraq but looking to expand its involvement to areas the group controls in Syria, following the attack on the French capital on 13 November, which killed 140 people.

Corbyn gave members of the Labour Party free rein on the vote - but urged MPs on both sides of parliament to vote with their conscience. 

He argued that UK military action would inevitably lead to civilian deaths, increased dangers to British servicemen and civilians at home, and that the government's case was not convincing.

But his own shadow foreign secretary opposed him.

"As a party for we have always been defined by our internationalism. We believe we have a responsibility one to another," said Hilary Benn.

"We never have and never should walk by on the other side of the world. And we are here faced with fascists... who hold our democracy in contempt... and what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated."

'Terrorist sympathisers'

Although the debate in parliament was generally amicable, tensions were frayed between the two leaders after the prime minister told fellow Conservative MPs not to vote for "Jeremy Corbyn and a bunch of terrorist sympathisers".

Cameron was repeatedly asked by MPs to apologise for the remark, with the prime minister's seemingly careless rhetoric of last night threatening to overshadow the main debate of today. 

Analysis: Cameron faces anti-bombing Syria rebellion amid 'terrorist sympathisers' debacle'

He argued that although he understood the dangers about expanding the war against IS it was imperative that the UK took the war to the extremist group.

"This is not about whether we want to fight terrorism, it's about how best we do that," the prime minister said.

"The question is this: 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?"

Veteran Labour MP Gerald Kaufman condemned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian leader Vladimir Putin's "murder" of Syrian civilians - but said he would vote against military action.

Syrian activists have argued against the bombing, but urged the UK government to take a tougher stance against the regime, which has killed the majority of civilians in the four-year war.

The Daily Telegraph reported that some opposition Labour MPs were also said to be "in tears" after local constituency party members allegedly threatened them with deselection, and warned them that military action meant "murdering women and children" if they were to vote in favour of intervention.

Yvette Cooper, a former Shadow Home Secretary who resigned when Corbyn was elected Labour leader, said she would vote with the government's motion.

Another rebel within his own party, David Davis, a former Conservative cabinet member, said he would vote against the government, and support the opposition.

"The American-led air campaign in Syria and Iraq so far amounted in both countries to about 10,000 sorties - a third in Syria - against 16,000 targets," said Davis.

"The avowed aim? To degrade ISIS - or Daesh. The outcome? In the period in which the campaign has been operating, the recruitment for Daesh has doubled, from 15,000 to 30,000 personnel.

"By a macabre coincidence, one extra recruit for every target we destroyed."