Archbishop of Canterbury urges caution before any decision on Syria strike

Archbishop Justin addresses Christian leaders in the Peace Garden at St George's Anglican Cathedral, Jerusalem, 26 June 2013. In his address, the Archbishop said there was no other way to peace than "finding one another's humanity". (Lambeth Palace photo by Chris Cox)(Photo: Lambeth Palace)

The Archbishop of Canterbury has cautioned the Government against rushing into a military response to the Syria crisis.

The Most Reverend Justin Welby said government leaders needed to be "sure" of the facts and be aware of the possible ramifications that military action could have for the entire Middle East region.   

"The things which MPs will have to bear in mind in what is going to be a very, very difficult debate is firstly: are we sure about the facts on the ground?" the Archbishop told The Daily Telegraph.

"Secondly: Is it possible to have a carefully calibrated response including armed force, if you are sure about the facts on the ground, that does not have unforeseeable ramifications across the whole Arab and Muslim world?"

He admitted feeling "extremely conscious" of his own "lack of knowledge" on the situation on the ground, and the "enormous complexity and inter-linkedness of everything that happens there".

"The Government and the Americans are seeing intelligence nobody else sees - I just think we have to be very careful about rushing to judgement," he said.

The Archbishop recently visited Egypt and the Holy Land, where the Syrian situation and the plight of refugees was discussed in a meeting with Britain's Ambassador to Egypt, James Watt.

Reflecting on the mood in the Middle East, Archbishop Welby said there had been an "overwhelming" and "terrible sense of fear" about what might happen in the next few weeks, and a "sense that this is a terribly, terribly dangerous time".

"Certainly when I was there in June and I think it has got worse since then I can scarcely remember a time of being in meetings where there was such a sense of apprehension, I mean it was tangible, this sense of 'what will happen?" he said.

"What will be the impact on us?.…the impact on people not directly involved in the fighting is beyond description and horrible."