In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013 image smoke rises from buildings due to heavy shelling in Daraa, Syria.
The US and its allies built their case today for likely military action against the regime in war-torn Syria over alleged chemical weapons attacks, despite stern warnings from Russia.
The ground for a military intervention was set out by US Vice President Joe Biden, who for the first time said last week's attack, thought to have killed hundreds, could only have been perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.
Britain joined the US in saying regime forces were behind the strikes, and Prime Minister David Cameron said London and its allies had to consider whether targeted military action was required to "deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons".
But senior officials in Washington told NBC news that possible strikes against targets in Syria could take place as early as tomorrow.
Moscow, Assad's most powerful ally, again warned a military solution would destabilise the Middle East, and Syria's envoy to the UN blamed rebels in the country for launching the attack to provoke international intervention.
The economic cost also started to be counted, as global stocks dived and world oil prices hit a six-month high.
Biden said the United States was certain Assad's forces were responsible for the deadly gas attacks on August 21.
"There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria -- the Syrian regime," Biden said.
"The president believes and I believe that those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women and children should and must be held accountable."
Analysts expect to see cruise missiles launched from US and allied submarines, ships and possibly planes, firing into Syria from outside its waters and airspace.
Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
During a news conference yesterday, however, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus would defend itself.
"We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal," he said. "The second choice is the best. We will defend ourselves."
Syria's ambassador to the UN also hit back at accusations of responsibility for chemical weapons strikes.
"Many facts tend to prove the innocence of the Syrian government, which has been subject to false accusations," ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari told state media.
US rules out unilateral military action
The United States has also ruled out unilateral military action against Syria and is conferring with allies on potential punitive strikes that could last for more than a day, a senior US official said today.
"Any military action would not be unilateral. It would include international partners," the senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
The strikes against Syria, if ordered, could extend beyond a single day, the official said.
"The options are not limited just to one day."
Amid speculation Britain and France would join in the possible strikes, US officials declined to comment on whether the military action under consideration would go beyond the use of cruise missiles and require fighter aircraft to enter Syrian airspace.
"We're exploring every option," the official said.
The official's comments offered the latest sign President Barack Obama and US allies were moving towards military action against Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Obama's deputies were holding discussions with Turkey, Jordan and other partners on contingency plans in preparation for any retaliation by the Syrian regime in the event of US-led action, the official said.
Washington was looking at "what could likely be the reaction, the consequences" of military action.
"There's a possibility that the Syrian government would use chemical weapons again. I don't think you can discount that," said the official.
But if the United States took no military action against Damascus, then it would send a dangerous signal to other regimes with chemical stockpiles, including North Korea, the official said.
Chemical 'substance' used in Syria: UN envoy
Evidence suggests that some kind of chemical "substance" was used in Syria that may have killed more than 1,000 people, but any military strike in response must first gain UN Security Council approval, the UN's special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said today.
Brahimi spoke to reporters in Geneva as a UN inspection team was investigating the alleged poison gas attack near Damascus on August 21 and momentum built for Western military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime in the civil war that he called the most serious crisis facing the international community.
"With what has happened on the 21st of August last week, it does seem that some kind of substance was used that killed a lot of people: hundreds, definitely more than a hundred, some people say 300, some people say 600, maybe 1,000, maybe more than 1,000 people," Brahimi said.
"This was of course unacceptable. This is outrageous. This confirms how dangerous the situation in Syria is and how important for the Syrians and the international community to really develop the political will to address this issue seriously, and look for a solution for it," he said.
Brahimi did not elaborate on whether he based his information on the work of the UN team or other sources such as Western intelligence, including what US Secretary of State John Kerry has called "undeniable" evidence of a large-scale chemical attack likely launched by Assad's regime.
Brahimi also said that any US-led military action must first gain approval from the 15-nation Security Council, whose five permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States each have veto power.
"International law says that any military action must be taken after" Security Council approval, he said. But, he added, President Barack Obama's administration is "not known to be trigger-happy".
Cameron talks Syria with Obama
British Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken to US President Barack Obama on the situation in Syria before making a case to parliament for targeted military action to halt the use of chemical weapons.
Downing Street said Cameron heard the "latest on US thinking" on the issue during his phone conversation with Obama, ahead of a National Security Council meeting and a House of Commons vote tomorrow.
"No decision has yet been taken. Any action we take or others take would have to be legal, would have to be proportionate," Cameron said.
"It would have to be specifically to deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons."
Cameron said Britain will seek UN Security Council backing for action to protect Syrian civilians by submitting a draft resolution on the issue.
The Syrian government has blamed opposition fighters for an alleged chemical attack near Damascus on August 21, in which hundreds of people were reportedly killed.
The latest phone call between Obama and Cameron was the second since the alleged attack.
Cameron was briefed by military chiefs after he asked parliament to be recalled from its summer recess to discuss the Syrian situation. However, the government faces opposition from MPs who have pointed to Britain's involvement in the long-drawn Iraq war.
Responding to critics, Cameron said Britain is only reacting to the alleged attack ordered by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
"This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict...It's about chemical weapons: their use is wrong and the world shouldn't stand idly by," he said.
'UN needs 4 more days to conclude probe into use of chemical weapons'
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that UN inspectors needed four days in total to conclude a probe into chemical weapons use in Syria.
"My mandate and my responsibility at this time is to conduct a thorough and complete investigation," Ban told reporters in The Hague.
"Let them (inspectors) conclude their work for four days," he said.
The UN chief added that the team's findings would then be analysed and the result sent to the UN Security Council for "any action they would deem to take".
UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said later that Ban was referring to a total of four days. This suggests that the inspectors, who began their probe of the alleged chemical weapons site on Monday but whose work was suspended yesterday, needed at least until Friday to complete their work.
Protest against military attack on Syria in UK. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
West is inventing excuses to attack: Syria
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi accused Western countries of "inventing" excuses to take military action against Syria over its alleged chemical weapons attacks.
"Western countries, starting with the United States, are inventing fake scenarios and fictitious alibis to intervene militarily in Syria," he said, quoted by state television.
Halqi said his country would be come a "graveyard of the invaders" if there were a military intervention.
"Syria... Will surprise the aggressors as it surprised them during" the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Arab forces carried out a sneak attack on Israel, "and will be the graveyard of the invaders," he was quoted by state television as saying.
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