May 31, 1945
New York Times.
I informed the House last night of a very serious situation which had developed in Syria, where there is fighting between Syrians and French troops. I promised last night to keep the House fully informed as early as I could of any decision His Majesty's Government might take.
The situation has deteriorated still further since last night. Our Minister in Damascus reports that there was heavy firing and shelling during the night and that two great fires were burning in the center of the city, about one mile apart, but spreading.
All telephone communication has been cut between Damascus and the seacoast and we are only in touch with our Minister by wireless.
An armistice was arranged with the French military authorities yesterday afternoon and British and United States civilian colonies were evacuated from Damascus. After that the center of the city was subjected to the heaviest and most concentrated shellfire yet directed upon it. It was also bombed from the air.
The Government of Hama has appealed to the Ninth Army to arrange for an armistice in order that the many dead and wounded may be evacuated.
Fighting is spreading to other parts of Syria, notably the Djebel Druze, where French officers have been taken prisoner.
The President and Government of Syria has sent an urgent appeal to the British Government, reminding us that we had endorsed the promises of independence and that we had also said that the treaty negotiations with France should be conducted freely and not under duress.
The greatest concern had been caused throughout the Middle East and serious fears were entertained for the state of tranquillity which was so necessary in that area if the vital line of communication to the Far East was not to be disturbed. Every possible effort had been made to enjoin calm on both sides and he did not think that a further appeal in this sense would have any effect.
In all the circumstances, the British Government have come to the conclusion that they can no longer stand aside and the Prime Minister has accordingly today sent the following message to General de Gaulle:
"In view of the grave situation which has arisen between your troops and the Levant states and the severe fighting which has broken out, we have with profound regret ordered the commander in chief in the Middle East to intervene to prevent further effusion of blood in the interests of the security of the whole Middle East, which involves communications for the war against Japan.
"In order to avoid a collision between British and French forces, we request you immediately to order French troops to cease fire and to withdraw to their barracks.
"Once the firing has ceased and order has been restored, we shall be prepared to begin tripartite discussions here in London," the message concluded.
I feel sure that the House will agree with me in deploring these events and will share my hope that, once order has been restored, we shall be able to resume the diplomatic initiative which I mentioned last night and might arrange a peaceful settlement which will be satisfactory to the parties concerned.
We also have in mind, of course, an arrangement by which the Syrian and Lebanese Governments will be associated with these discussions. We are in the closest touch with all the Governments concerned, including the United States of America, but I would not wish to say more about the diplomatic arrangements which we contemplate at this stage. I feel sure the House would also share my hope that nothing should be said at this stage which will make that diplomatic initiative more difficult.