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Bishop questions wisdom of air strikes

11 December 2015


THE Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, has said that he is “unconvinced of the wisdom” of Government plans to defeat terrorism, as the UK’s programme of air strikes on Islamic State (IS), or Daesh, targets in Syria, continued.

Four UK aircraft — two Tornados and two Typhoons — were reported to have hit eight targets in Syrian oilfields on Friday in a second bid to destroy IS resources.

Bishop Atwell said in a statement that, while he fully supported its intentions, the Government must find a long-term strategy for peace. “Syria is already being bombed by a number of different countries, but without any co-ordinated plan for the defeat of IS,” he said.

“All action needs to be motivated by a real desire for peace, and to see autonomous rule in those countries torn apart by conflict.”

Speaking from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on Saturday, the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said that the air campaign was “not going to be short or simple”. The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the strikes were part of “daily missions” against the militant group to cut off its primary source of income.

The first wave of bombing was launched hours after the House of Commons voted in favour of military action by a margin of 174 votes, on Thursday of last week. A separate amendment to block air strikes was defeated by 390 votes to 211.

The heated 11-hour debate was led by the Prime Minister, and closed with a speech by the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn, in favour of military action, and which drew cheers from the benches. A total of 66 Labour MPs voted with the Government, against the advice of their party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking in a parallel debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday of last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury said that the criteria for a just war had been met (News, 4 December), but warned that the Government must be careful not to “end up doing the right thing in such a wrong way that it becomes the wrong thing”.

He went on to urge Mr Cameron to consider the context of IS ideology, and the consequences of military force.

The deployment of air strikes so soon after the Commons vote drew criticism from church leaders, charities, and pacifists. The Quakers immediately issued a statement strongly opposing the decision, which, they said, was a ploy to make the UK “look strong on the world stage”.

The Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain, Paul Parker, said on Thursday of last week: “Bombing is no solution. Quakers work faithfully for peace, not war . . . and we deplore a decision which will lead to lives being lost.”

On the same day, the Methodist Church issued a “call for peace”. The President and Vice-president of the Methodist Conference, the Revd Steve Wild and Dr Jill Barber, stated: “Every death is tragic, and we grieve for those who have been killed, and those who will die as an escalation of military action as a result of the continuing conflict.”

On Monday, a group of UK military veterans discarded their service medals in Downing Street in protest against the strikes.

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