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Call for talks to forestall military moves into Syria

Political reaction in Ireland to the escalating Syrian crisis remains opposed to military intervention, despite the rising civilian death toll and suggestions that Britain might back air raids against military targets without the agreement of the UN.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said yesterday Ireland’s position remained unchanged since EU foreign ministers discussed the conflict in Dublin last March.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said at the time that further militarisation of the crisis must be avoided and a political solution found instead. That view was reiterated late last week by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, following the chemical attacks on civilians in Damascus. In a message supported by Ireland, she called for urgent diplomatic action by the international community.

Opposition parties also stressed the need for further talks. Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Brendan Smith urged Mr Gilmore to get the US and Russia around the table for talks on a road to peace.

"It looks increasingly likely that the US and UK are going to take action in response to the horrendous gas attacks on civilian population last week," said Mr Smith. "However, the danger remains that ad hoc intervention means only an extension of the civil war.

"What the people of Syria need is an end to this conflict. There needs to be a voice urging peace talks, talks needed without further delay and Ireland can be that voice."

Sinn Féin also cautioned against a Western-led attack, saying there seemed to be no clear idea of what that would achieve or how it would bring peace.

EU foreign ministers are to meet in Lithuania at the end of next week, with Syria likely to top the agenda. The results of the UN weapons inspectors’ visit to the scene of last week’s chemical attacks are expected to be known by then.

Meanwhile, a group of Irish peacekeepers have begun the final phase of their training for a mission to the disputed Golan Heights region of Syria next month.
The 115 soldiers will initially be deployed for six months, but Cmdt Denis Hanly said yesterday the period of Irish involvement could be extended depending on UN requests and Government decisions.

UN troops have been in the region since 1974 as part of a peace deal between Syria and its neighbour, Israel.