Six RAF Typhoon jets have been deployed to Cyprus to protect British sovereign bases, the Ministry of Defence confirmed today as the Prime Minister prepares to debate military action in the House of Commons later this afternoon.
The MoD said the jets are being dispatched to Akrotiri in Cyprus as a “prudent and precautionary measure”, adding that they are not being deployed to take part in a military strike against Syria.
A spokesman said: “We can confirm that as part of ongoing contingency planning, six RAF Typhoon interceptor fast jets are deploying this morning to Akrotiri in Cyprus.
“This is purely a prudent and precautionary measure to ensure the protection of UK interests and the defence of our sovereign base areas at a time of heightened tension in the wider region.
“This is a movement of defensive assets operating in an air-to-air role only. They are not deploying to take part in any military action against Syria."
The move comes as a statement released by the Government this afternoon stated that even if military action is blocked by the UN Security Council, "the UK would still be permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria".
The Government has also provided the Commons with evidence compiled by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which says a chemical weapons attack did occur in Damascus last week and that it is "highly likely" that Bashar Assad's regime was responsible.
The Turkish government's crisis management centre also took action today and confirmed on Twitter on that officials had designated bunkers at seven areas along the border to protect the people in the area from harm.
The deployment comes as the United Nations security council- general confirmed on Twitter that UN weapons inspectors will finish their investigations tomorrow.
Israeli citizens have been seen waiting in lengthy ques for government issued gas masks in the coastal city of Haifa, north of Israel, over fears of any military strikes in neighbouring Syria.
The Typhoons have been sent out in a defensive counter air (DCA) role, the RAF said, and are fitted with advanced medium range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAM), advanced short range air-to-air missiles (ASRAAM), and a Mauser cannon for close combat.
Cyprus's sovereign base areas reportedly provide a “strategic forward mounting base” in a region important to the UK's long-term national security interests.
There are around 2,500 military and UK civilian personnel serving on the bases, along with around 3,000 family members and dependants.
Two infantry battalions serve there - one provides security to UK defence assets and the other is a high-readiness reserve force for operations.
As the RAF deploy jets, officials in Turkey say the country has now been placed on high alert against possible chemical attacks, and confirmed the government has stocked up food and gas masks for along the border.
A UN spokesman tweeted: "UNSG told reporters in Vienna that Syria UN Chemical Weapons team will finish work Friday & leave Saturday.“
Meanwhile, Russia is reportedly sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, Interfax news agency said today.
Interfax news agency quoted a source in the armed forces' general staff as saying a missile cruiser and an anti-submarine ship would arrive in the coming days because of the “well-known situation”.
The navy later denied the deployment was linked to events in Syria and said it was part of a long-planned rotation of its ships in the Mediterranean. It declined to say what kind of vessels, or how many, were on their way to the region.
The Prime Minister was last night forced to put a hold on a British military strike in Syria, after Labour leader Ed Miliband pulled back from supporting military intervention.
Mr Miliband has said the party needs "compelling evidence" of chemical warfare and said the House of Commons cannot be asked "to write a blank cheque to the PM for military action" .
He added: “I'm clear that this is a very grave decision to take military action that the House of Commons would be making and I didn't think that that decision should be made on an artificial timetable when the House of Commons wouldn't even have seen the evidence today from the UN weapons inspectors."
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Government “was bending over backwards” to try to address concerns over military action, including publishing advice from the attorney general and the Joint Intelligence Committee.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “I think there is a great deal of understandable anxiety and concern and unease about what taking possibly military steps would mean for this country, for the world, for the region and so on.
Video: Nick Clegg on Syria
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies