Airlines warned of potential for missile strikes over eastern Mediterranean

Proposals for investigations into the use of chemical weapons in Syria have been blocked

Airlines warned of potential for missile strikes over eastern Mediterranean

Syrian soldiers walk in the recently-captured Zamalka town in Eastern Ghouta in the countryside of Damascus, Syria, 10-04-2018. Image: Ammar Safarjalani/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Europe's air traffic controllers have issued a "rapid alert" for airlines in the Eastern Mediterranean over the possibility of missile strikes on Syria.

Eurocontrol is warning airlines to exercise caution due to the possible launch of air-to-ground and cruise missiles “within the next 72 hours.”

The air navigation safety organisation said there is also a risk of “intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment.”

It comes as Russia last night vetoed a US proposal for an investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

The US-drafted UN resolution would have established a new body to determine whether Syria was responsible for the suspected chemical attack in Douma last week which killed 70 people.

Moscow and the Syrian regime deny any involvement in the gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia speaks to Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari, 11-04-2018. Image: Li Muzi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

International response

French president Emmanuel Macron has said he will consult his country’s allies in order to decide upon a joint response to the attack.

He said France would bolster its diplomatic efforts to ban the use of chemical weapons and work to open up humanitarian access to the Damascus suburb.

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson claimed Russia was “holding the Syrian people to political ransom by supporting a regime responsible for at least four heinous chemical attacks against its own people.”

US President Donald Trump has already pledged a “forceful” response to the alleged attack.

He spoke to British Prime Minister Theresa May over the phone on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

Both leaders agreed that the international community needs to respond to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.

Russian warning

This afternoon, Russia warned the US against taking military action against Syria, as concerns grow that Western powers may retaliate.

A Kremlin spokesman told reporters: "As before, we would like to hope that all sides will avoid any steps that a) are not provoked by anything and b) could significantly destabilise an already fragile situation in the region."

Chemical weapons watchdog

Meanwhile, the global chemical weapons watchdog has confirmed it will travel to Douma on a fact finding mission to investigate the reports of a chemical attack.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Syria has been asked to "make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment."

"This has coincided with a request from the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. The team is preparing to deploy to Syria shortly."

Russian veto

This is the 12th time Russia has used its veto power at the council to block action targeting Syria.

In the 15-member Security Council, 12 voted in favour of the proposal, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting "no" and China abstained.

A draft resolution requires nine votes to be adopted in the 15-member council and no veto from the five permanent members, which are Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

American ambassador Nikki Haley said the United States "went the extra mile" to get Russian support for the resolution to ensure that a new investigative body would be impartial, independent and professional - things she said would not be guaranteed by a rival Russian resolution.

Use of force

Russia's UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the US of wanting the resolution to fail "to justify the use of force against Syria."

Mr Nebenzia said the resolution was an attempt to recreate the old expert body, whose extension Moscow blocked in November.

He called that body "a puppet in the hands of anti-Damascus forces."

The Security Council also rejected a counter resolution drafted by Russia on investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Six countries including China and Russia backed the measure, while seven nations voted against.

Two countries abstained.