UN Security Council faces-off over military action in Syria
The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council faced-off Wednesday over a British resolution authorizing "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Syria, as Western militaries readied to strike inside the war-torn country, dpa reported.
Discussions among the five nations - China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States - on the crisis in Syria will take place "over the coming days," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, suggesting an attack by the West may not be imminent.
The Chinese and Russian representatives walked out of the closed-door meeting in New York earlier than their counterparts. The two nations strongly object to Western military intervention in Syria's 30-month-old civil war.
Britain's Security Council resolution aims to authorize "all necessary measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons," Downing Street said.
The draft resolution comes a week after the regime of President Bashar al-Assad allegedly bombarded sites outside of Damascus with poison gas - attacks the opposition claims killed 1,300 people. The government has repeatedly denied responsibility.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has questioned claims that al-Assad's forces were responsible for the attacks, and has warned against any retaliatory strikes without UN approval.
In Washington, the State Department said the discussion in the Security Council had again been stalled by Russia, but that the US would continue to consult internationally on a potential response to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons.
"We cannot be held up in responding by Russia's ... continued intransigence at the United Nations," spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
"We're going to make our own decisions on our own timelines about our response," she said. "Obviously, we will continue consultations with our international partners around the world, but we are making decisions based on our own timeline."
She declined to directly address whether UN authorization would be necessary for a possible military action, noting no decision had yet been made on how to proceed.
The British cabinet is to approve Thursday a response to the alleged chemical weapons attack by al-Assad's regime, after the National Security Council (NSC) "agreed unanimously on a recommendation," a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
"Ministers agreed that the Assad regime was responsible for this attack and that the world shouldn't stand idly by and that any response should be legal, proportionate and specifically to protect civilians by deterring further chemical weapons use," she added.
The flurry of diplomatic activity across the Atlantic came as UN chemical weapons inspectors toured a second site of the alleged attacks.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said they should be given "four days" more to finish their work.
"It is essential to establish the facts," he said while visiting The Hague.
The Syrian government Wednesday asked the UN to investigate three additional sites of alleged chemical weapons use.
"The letter contains a request by the Syrian government to the secretary general to mandate ... the investigation team present now in Damascus to investigate three heinous incidents that took place in the Damascus countryside," Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, said.
Jaafari said the alleged gas attacks by "terrorist armed groups" against the Syrian army took place between August 22 and August 25.
On the ground in Syria, local activists, speaking anonymously, said the UN inspectors were at work in the Eastern Ghouta area, where most of the casualties of the alleged bombardments were reported.
On Monday, the inspectors came under fire from unidentified snipers near Maadamiyet al-Sham, on the outskirts of Damascus.
The threat of strikes against Syria has prompted around 10,000 Syrians to flee into neighbouring Lebanon in the past 24 hours, a Lebanese border guard has told dpa.
Officials and witnesses say joint Jordanian and US military forces - including dozens of tanks and fighter jets - have mobilized along the 370-kilometre Jordanian-Syrian border.
"US and Jordanian forces have been training together for months in preparation for this scenario," says a Jordanian military commander not authorized to speak to the media.
Local residents near the border town of Ramtha, a few kilometres away from the southern Syrian city of Daraa, report several unmanned drones monitoring the border region.