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UN Security Council begins talks as US allies gear up for military strike in Syria

29th Aug 2013

Envoys from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States started talks Wednesday on a British drafted UN Security Council resolution that could allow military action against President Bashar al-Assad, diplomats said.

Britain wants the resolution to allow “all necessary measures to protect civilians” but Russia was expected to fiercely oppose western moves toward military strikes against Syrian government targets after the alleged use of chemical weapons near Damascus last week.

Any US military action taken in response to suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria would need to be approved by the UN Security Council, international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on Wednesday.

“I think international law is clear on this. International law says that military action must be taken after a decision by the Security Council. That is what international law says,” he told a press conference in Geneva.

“I must say that I do know that President Obama and the American administration are not known to be trigger-happy. What they will decide I don’t know. But certainly international law is very clear.”

The United States and its allies built their case Wednesday for likely military action against the Syrian government in the war-torn country over an alleged chemical attack on August 21.

The ramp-up of military language came as UN inspectors finished a second day of investigating the sites of the alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people.

Meanwhile, Syrian government forces appear to have evacuated most personnel from army and security command headquarters in central Damascus in case of a Western military strike, residents and opposition sources said on Wednesday.

Among the buildings that have been partially evacuated are the General Staff Command Building on Umayyad Square, the nearby air force command and the security compounds in the Western Kfar Souseh districts, residents of the area and a Free Syrian Army rebel source said.

Syrian military authorities do not discuss troop movements publicly, and no government spokesman was available for comment.

“You can drop a needle in Kfar Souseh and hear it,” said a resident who lives near the Palestine branch of Military Intelligence in Kfar Souseh.

The ground for a Western military intervention in Syria was being 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 Assad’s forces.

“[US President Barack Obama] believes and I believe that those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable,” he said.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the American military was already prepared to act if Obama gave the order –though White House aides said no final decision had been taken.

“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” Hagel told the BBC. “We are ready to go, like that.”

The Syrian government strongly denies the claims leveled against it.

“Many facts tend to prove the innocence of the Syrian government, which has been subject to false accusations,” Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari told state media.

Jaafari said such facts also showed that “armed groups have used chemical weapons in order to bring about military intervention and aggression against Syria.”

Jaafari said such facts also showed that “armed groups have used chemical weapons in order to bring about military intervention and aggression against Syria.”

The West and Turkey “have enabled terrorist groups to create a laboratory for chemical weapons on Turkish territory with materials provided by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar… and to bring these chemical weapons to Syria for use,” he alleged.

A team of United Nations inspectors reached rebel-held territory outside Damascus on Wednesday, opposition activists said.

“They have reached the town of Maleiha and are now with the rebel escorts, soon they will head to towns where the strikes happened and begin their inspections,” activist Salam Mohammed said, speaking to Reuters via Skype.

The team of arms experts boarded a convoy of six vehicles in Damascus, the photographer said, and visited the suburb of eastern Ghouta, the site of the August 21 alleged chemical attack.

This came a day after the experts suspended their mission for one day over safety concerns.

The inspectors braved sniper fire when they began their mission on Monday but still managed to visit two field hospitals in Moadamiyet al-Sham, southwest of Damascus, and collect evidence of last week’s suspected chemical attacks.

But they were unable carry out a planned visit to a second site in Eastern Ghouta, on the Syrian capital’s northeastern outskirts, on Tuesday because their safety could not be guaranteed.

The inspectors need four days to conclude their investigation and time to analyze the findings, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday.

“They are working very hard, under very, very dangerous circumstances,” Ban told a news conference in The Hague where he was attending centenary celebrations for the Peace Palace.

“Let them conclude their work for four days, and then we will have to analyze scientifically with experts and then I think we will have to report to the Security Council for any actions.”

While the United States are leading the movement for military intervention in Syria, a senior US official ruled out unilateral action.

“Any military action would not be unilateral. It would include international partners,” the senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.

Britain joined the US in saying government 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.”

French President Francois Hollande said his country was “ready to punish” those behind the chemical attacks and that he would meet the Syrian opposition’s leader on Thursday.

Moscow, Assad’s most powerful ally, again warned a military solution would destabilize the Middle East, and Syria’s envoy to the UN blamed rebels in the country for launching the attack to provoke international intervention.

Speaking to UN-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “a military solution will lead only to a further destabilization of the situation in the country and the region,” his ministry said.

Russia’s first deputy foreign minister Vladimir Titov said Wednesday it was premature to mull any reaction by the United Nations Security Council before the UN chemical weapons inspection team releases its findings.

“Discussing some sort of reaction by the Security Council before UN inspectors working in Syria publish their report is at the very least untimely,” Titov told the Interfax news agency.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday US intervention in Syria would be “a disaster for the region,” the ISNA state news agency reported.

“The intervention of supra-regional and foreign powers in one country will have no result other than lighting a fire and increase the hatred people have for them,” ISNA quoted Khamenei as saying.

“This lighting of a fire is like a spark in a gunpowder magazine whose dimensions and consequences are unknown.”

Senior officials in Washington told NBC news that possible strikes against targets in Syria could take place as early as Thursday.

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.

A military campaign in Syria is expected to be limited in scope, likely to last only several days and to target military sites but not the chemical weapons stocks themselves, sources in Washington said.

An official in Syria’s main opposition National Coalition said the group expects a Western military intervention and it has been consulted over targets, which included airports, military bases and arms depots.

“It’s a question of days and not weeks,” said Ahmad Ramadan, adding that “there have been meetings between the Coalition, the (rebel) Free Syrian Army and allied countries.”

During a news conference on Tuesday, 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.”

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/un-continues-syria-investigation-western-powers-prepare-military-strike

 

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