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Opinion in Medway divided on Isis targets in Syria airstrikes as all three MPs voted for the military move

By Clare Freeman

Local opinion on British involvement in Syria was sharply divided as MPs voted in favour of the military move last night.

A poll of 100 people, carried out by kmfm in Chatham High Street, showed almost half did not think MPs should vote to expand air strikes to Syria, while 31 people said they should and 20 were not sure. This echoed a national YouGov survey which found support for the strikes had plunged from 59% to 48%.

And while all three of Medway’s MPs, Kelly Tolhurst, Rehman Chishti and Tracey Crouch lined up behind the Prime Minister in the division lobby, people in Medway expressed concern over the intervention.

Medway's MPs, Rehman Chishti, Kelly Tolhurst, and Tracey Crouch at the general election count

Expert Aidan Hehir, from Borstal, said: “An increase in Western military intervention is not a solution to the problems in the Middle East.

“History suggests such campaigns are ultimately counter-productive; indeed Isis could hardly have wished for better recruiting propaganda than the sight of Western planes dropping bombs to support Assad.”

Mr Hehir, who teaches international relations at the University of Westminster added: “Rather than bomb, the UK, and the West more generally, should stop supporting oppressive regimes across the region and work to eliminate the source of the societal disaffection that leads people to join groups like Isis.”

Last night, David Cameron's government won the vote, by 397 votes to 223, to expand the airstrikes after a 10-hour debate.

Ms Tolhurst, MP for Rochester and Strood, said: "This was probably the biggest, and hardest, decision I will ever have to make as an MP. So many constituents got in touch with me on both sides of the argument, I have read and listened to the varied viewpoints, and emotions that have been expressed.

"My decision was based on the fact that we will be no safer from attack by Daesh if we were to take no action, I felt that we have no choice but to confront our barbaric enemy now given they have tried to attack us no less than 7 times, and will try to do so again.

Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester and Strood.

"We can join a UN mandated international coalition to combat what is without question an evil, terrorist organisation. However, I would like to say that airstrikes are by no means the end game. I would like to see us contribute more to the diplomatic efforts and economic and educational development across the region in order to counter the affiliates of Daesh and Al Qaeda."

Imam Safeer Khan, from the Nasir Mosque in Richmond Road, Gillingham, said his organisation opposed air strikes in any areas populated by civilians, but said bombing oil refineries, weapons stores or factories under Isis control could be justified.

He said: “A better strategy to defeat Isis would be to support the countries around Isis to form an army from all those countries which then send in troops to engage the militants and terrorists. That would be better than getting involved directly.

Imam Safeer Khan

“We have to stop the supply to Isis. They are a big organisation. They have resources and money. Once we stop the supply, we’ll be able to strangle this evil group.”

He added that lessons needed to be learnt from Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan: “When such destruction is caused by bombing and those countries are left without any infrastructure, any educational systems, any proper systems, that is the main drive for extremists to recruit people.”

Vince Maple, leader of the Medway Labour Group, said: "My position remains the same as it was prior to the debate in parliament that I do not believe that air strikes being expanded are necessarily the right next step in defeating Daesh.

"However I understand why people may take an alternative view on this and respect all those taking part in the debate. What I think has been very unhelpful is the use of terms such as "warmonger" for those support action or for those against action "terrorist sympathiser" which David Cameron is reported to have used - emotive language like that doesn't help this incredibly complex set of circumstances."

As part of yesterday's debate, Mr Cameron said the government will officially use the term Daesh instead of Isis, following a campaign by Rehman Chishti.

The MP for Gillingham and Rainham said: "I believe that we have a duty to join our international allies to take action in Syria to defeat an evil terrorist group which is a threat to us in the UK, to our European partners and around the world.

Rehman Chishti, MP for Gillingham and Rainham.

"Part of the strategy has to address its poisonous ideology, which has been sucking in vulnerable and disillusioned people. I welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment that he will start using the term Daesh instead of the so called Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL, after my campaign, which was been supported by 170 MPs from across the political spectrum.

"The term Daesh hold negative connotations and avoids linking it with religion, as well as helping to defeat this terrorist group’s propaganda, appeal and self-legitimacy."

Airstrikes on targets in the country began just hours after the motion was passed.

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