Labour is split right at the top of the party over how to respond to Donald Trump's decision to launch air strikes on Syrian government forces, it emerged on Friday (7 April).

Leader Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the attacks, warning that America's actions could escalate the civil war, while deputy leader Tom Watson described the missile strikes as a "direct and proportionate response" to a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held Idlib on Tuesday.

"Tuesday's horrific chemical attack was a war crime which requires urgent independent UN investigation and those responsible must be held to account," Corbyn said.

"But unilateral military action without legal authorisation or independent verification risks intensifying a multi-sided conflict that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people.

"What is needed instead is to urgently reconvene the Geneva peace talks and unrelenting international pressure for a negotiated settlement of the conflict.

"The terrible suffering of the Syrian people must be brought to an end as soon as possible and every intervention must be judged on what contribution it makes to that outcome. The British government should urge restraint on the Trump administration and throw its weight behind peace negotiations and a comprehensive political settlement."

Watson, in contrast, told The Birmingham Mail: "These US strikes appear to be a direct and proportionate response to a clear violation of international law by the Syrian regime.

"It's clear from the nerve gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun earlier this week that President Assad had retained a chemical weapons capability, contrary to what was agreed in 2013. Indiscriminate chemical weapons attacks on civilians can never be tolerated and must have consequences.

"It's vital that the United States is now clear about its intentions and that the whole international community works towards a political settlement in Syria."

It has also emerged that Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith was consulted by Corbyn. Griffith, who has been in the role since October 2016, backed the strikes but the Labour leader's office took a different direction, a source told IBTimes UK.

What we know so far

  • US Navy ships launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at Sharyat airfield on Friday morning.
  • The governor of Homs province, where Sharyat airfield is located, said four people had died in the strike.
  • Russia has criticised the missile strikes, with Viktor Ozerov, head of Russia's Defense Committee in the Federation Council, claiming the strikes would "undermine the efforts in the fight against terrorism".
  • Countries including the UK, Japan and Turkey have expressed support for Trump's actions. "Our reaction is we fully support what the Americans have done. It's limited; it's wholly appropriate," UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told the BBC's Today programme.
  • The missile strikes are the first millitary action the US has taken against the Syrian government in the six year Syrian civil war.