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Just Hours After Politicians Say Yes, British Jets Begin Syria Airstrikes

As soon as UK politicians agreed to start bombing Islamic State targets in Syria in a controversial vote, British Tornado jets took off from Cyprus and launched their first strikes.

by Reuters and VICE News
Dec 3 2015, 10:15am

Photo by Cpl Andy Holmes/EPA

British Tornado bombers conducted their first air strikes on Syria just hours after parliament approved Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to strike at Islamic State militants in Syria, a government source said on Thursday.

Four Tornados from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus took part in the operation, which targeted the Omar oil fields in eastern Syria, which is under IS control.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon personally approved the targets before the vote and said the strikes were "successful," reported the BBC. Fallon said the Ministry of Defence would be assessing the damage done by the bombing later, but the aim was to strike "a very real blow on the oil and revenue on which Daesh depends".

British politicians voted on Wednesday to launch bombing raids against IS in Syria, supporting Prime Minister David Cameron's case that the country needs to help destroy militants who are "plotting to kill us".

After more than 10 hours of tense debate, lawmakers voted in favour of air strikes, by 397 to 223.

The heated argument about whether the UK should begin air strikes on Islamic State territory in Syria — reinvigorated since the Paris attacks on November 13 — saw Cameron label opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn a "terrorist sympathizer," and pacifist demonstrators label Cameron a "soon-to-be war criminal."

Related: The UK Prime Minister Thinks It's Britain's Moral Duty to Start Bombing Syria

Several senior Labour figures also opposed Corbyn, including shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, who told assembled politicians ""The time has come for us to fight this evil."

Corbyn was forced to allow a free vote for the Labour Party after failing to convince his shadow cabinet to oppose the motion. Within the Conservative Party, Cameron was also facing a split, with some parliamentarians opposed to bombing Syria.

Public opinion in Britain has also been divided, though it appeared to shift towards opposing air strikes during the past week. A YouGov survey conducted for the Times found that support had dropped from 59 percent to 48 percent since Cameron initially made the case for the vote. This is the equivalent of 5 million British people turning against bombing Syria.

As the debate raged on Wednesday, a crowd of protesters gathered outside in central London's Parliament Square to stage a "die-in." News of the vote result was met by howls of disgust.

The activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, which manages a network of informants in the IS stronghold in Syria, said on Thursday they were opposed to Britain joining in the strikes, and the bombings would achieve nothing except help IS gain more Western recruits.

"All the world is bombing Raqqa. [The] UK will not make any change in the situation. Just bombing ISIS in Raqqa will not defeat ISIS but it will make people suffer more," the group tweeted. "ISIS will use UK strikes to Recruit new people in the west and new fighters and maybe they will do terrorist attack.

"The strange thing is all the world wants to fight ISIS but not even one country dare[s] to send one soldier to fight IS on the ground. In the end nobody will liberate Raqqa except the people of Raqqa."

Related: UK Votes to Bomb Islamic State in Syria as Protesters Stage 'Die-In' Outside Parliament

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Raqqa is being slaughtered silently