British support for Syrian airstrikes seems set as debate starts

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The stakes are high for British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday as he pushes for a legislative vote that would reverse a 2013 Parliament decision and give him authority to launch airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Syria.

The proposal enjoys wide support in the parliament, with backing expected not just from Cameron’s Conservative Party, but also members of the Labour, Liberal Democrats and Democratic Unionist parties.

Nonetheless, Cameron is haunted by the memory of a failed 2013 attempt to get parliamentary approval for joining a US-led coalition against Syria designed to punish the government there for chemical weapons attacks against civilians.

Parliament’s decision then to withhold approval was one of the key nails in the coffin, torpedoing US President Barack Obama’s plans to try to militarily control advances by Syrian government forces.

However, Parliament did vote in 2014 to allow British forces to attack Islamic State forces in Iraq. Additionally, public sentiment is strong against Islamic State after the group claimed responsibility for last month’s deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.

Assuming Parliament backs Cameron’s request, it would join an existing US-led coalition operating airstrikes in Syria designed to impede Islamic State.

“One thing is clear: The threats to our interests and to our people are such that we cannot afford to stand aside and not to act,” noted Cameron last month as he made his case for the airstrikes.

The vote is expected to come around 2200 GMT, after about 10 hours of scheduled debate. Much attention is likely to focus on alleged comments by Cameron denouncing “terrorist sympathizers,” which some pacifist members of Parliament have taken as a dig against them.

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