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Syria airstrikes 'necessary and appropriate': Germany

April 14, 2018

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the German government supports the joint airstrikes in retaliation for the Syrian government's suspected use of chemical weapons. Some other German politicians have different views.

Merkel stands at a podium during a press conference
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her support Saturday for the previous day's US-led joint airstrikes in Syria, describing them as a "necessary and appropriate" measure to hinder the Syrian government's potential future use of chemical weapons and make sure international responses to their use remain effective.

"We support the fact that our American, British and French allies have taken responsibility in this way as permanent members of the UN Security Council," Merkel said.

The US, the UK and France are members of the Council, while Germany is in the running to get a temporary seat beginning this summer.

Her statement, shared by government spokesman Steffen Seibert, came one day after France, the US and the UK launched joint precision airstrikes on military and chemical research targets near Damascus in retaliation for last week's alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government on civilians in Douma.

Map of Syria showing where US, British and French airstrikes took place

Merkel's announcement echoed her previous remarks on Thursday, in which she had said that Germany would not take part in any military action but that it would back its allies.

Read more: The German stance on Syria: Ready to help, but not militarily

"Germany will decisively support all diplomatic steps" aimed at preventing the erosion of conventions against chemical weapons, she said on Saturday.

In her statement, the Christian Democrats (CDU) chancellor also renewed direct criticism of Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying that the country's status as a Security Council permanent member had prevented an independent investigation of events "for the umpteenth time."

While Syria and Russia have described the allegations of chemical weapons' use as unfounded, Merkel said that all findings up to this point have indicated that the Assad government bears responsibility for the alleged attack on civilians in Douma that killed more than 40 people.

Officials from the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is part of Merkel's coalition government, also backed the strikes in line with the chancellor.

Heiko Maas leaves a plane
Maas is the foreign minister in Germany's new government. He visited Jordan earlier this month (above).Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

SPD government officials in line with Merkel

SPD politician and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the precision air attacks as appropriate measures against the Assad regime, which he accused of repeatedly using chemical weapons against its civilians.

Maas called for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to undertake another "full and independent investigation into the suspected use of chemical weapons." He added, however, that the Syria conflict's "development, intensity and scope clearly shows us that only a political solution can achieve lasting peace."

Syria and its allies, Russia and Iran, had criticized the timing of the airstrikes, which took place the night before the OPCW was set to begin a probe into the events in Douma.

Read more: What does the chemical weapons watchdog OPCW do?

Germany's other political parties weigh in

Germany's opposition parties viewed the airstrikes more critically than the governing CDU/CSU and SPD.

The Green Party voiced its opposition to the strike. Party co-chairperson Annalena Baerbock said that further military escalation is a mistake, even given the "horrific cruelty of the Syrian regime and its allies."

"Vengeance must never be the goal. The goal must be saving lives and creating peace," Baerbock also added over the party's Twitter account.

She called on Merkel to initiate an emergency session of the UN General Assembly. Russia has said it would likely call a special meeting of the UN Security Council, in which it is a permanent member.

Baerbock additionally appealed to the European Union's foreign commissioner, Federica Mogherini, to develop a clear strategy on Syria with EU heads.

Read more: The Bundestag debates: What action should Germany take in the Syria conflict?

Sahra Wagenknecht, the head of The Left, Germany's other current opposition party, described the airstrikes in Syria as "another military violation of international law." Similarly to Russia, the head of the Russia-friendly party also criticized the fact that the joint strikes took place before OPCW inspectors could provide their results.

Prominent Left Bundestag representative Dietmar Bartsch added that the German government made itself guilty through its support for the strikes.

While the Free Democrats (FPD) also criticized Merkel's government, their rebukes came from the other direction. The party's foreign policy expert, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, said it was not right to remove possible German military involvement from the table at this point in time since Germany's allies could potentially ask it for help.

On Saturday, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) posted a series of tweets criticizing Merkel's support for the strikes and her policy towards Syria. Alexander Gauland, the leader of the AfD parliamentary group, told DW: "There's still no concrete evidence of a chemical attack on Douma. Therefore, the strikes by the US, France and the UK are premature. Only when it's clear that it was a poison gas [attack] and that Assad was responsible, should such a retaliatory strike be considered."

"Ms. Merkel's position is, as usual, half-hearted, following the motto: 'Let me have my cake and eat it, too.' This isn't good foreign policy for Germany," he added.

Read more: Syria is a 'safe country,' say German AfD lawmakers after visit

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cmb/jlw (dpa, AP, AFP, dpa)