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Cameron urges MPs to support Syria airstrikes

The British parliament is due to vote on whether the UK should join US-led airstrikes against the "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria. The prime minister has been under pressure for suggesting opponents were IS sympathizers.

Addressing parliament during a 10-hour debate on Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the UK now faced a simple question: whether to launch airstrikes against IS in Syria or to wait for militants to attack Britain.

"The threat is very real," Cameron said, urging MPs to "answer the call" from British allies and to authorize the strikes against IS targets.

The prime minister's argument in favor of the airstrikes was overshadowed, however, by calls from British lawmakers for Cameron to apologize for comments made at a private meeting in which he suggested that those opposing airstrikes were "a bunch of terrorist sympathizers."

No long-term peace plan

Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn warned MPs on Wednesday against an "ill-thought rush to war."

"It is becoming increasingly clear that the prime minister's proposals for military action simply do not stack up," Corbyn said, arguing that Cameron had no long-term peace plan and strategy to destroy IS.

Anti-airstrike protest in London

Anti-airstrike protest: British public support is waning

Ahead of the parliamentary debate, support from the British public for military action in Syria has reached its lowest level since September 2014. According to a YouGov opinion poll published on Wednesday in the British newspaper "The Times," 48 percent of respondents supported strikes and 31 percent opposed them.

Britons are wary of supporting the country's allies with airstrikes, particularly in light of the UK's failed interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya - actions which many opponents believe contributed to the rise of ultra-radical groups like IS.

Campaigners have vowed to demonstrate outside Westminster if parliament votes in favor of the airstrikes. A similar protest on Tuesday drew around 4,000 demonstrators.

'No operational difference'

Military experts have also questioned how much difference Britain's contribution to the airstrike campaign would make if they were to support their American and French allies.

"It is important symbolically, useful operationally, but not transformative," Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute, a military think-tank, told AFP news agency.

Cameron insisted, however, that British warplanes could make "a real difference."

Parliament was due to vote on the Syrian airstrikes at around 10 p.m. local time (2200UTC) on Wednesday. If MPs support Cameron, British airstrikes could be launched within a matter of hours from an air base in Cyprus.

ksb/rc (Reuters, AFP)

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