DAMASCUS (AFP) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad vowed Thursday to defend his country from attack as the United States and Britain laid out their case for punitive military strikes against Damascus over a suspected poisonous gas attack.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for the West to give peace a chance, saying his inspectors would report back to him by Saturday on their probe into the alleged use of internationally banned chemical weapons in the attack that horrified the world.
The military buildup continued in the Mediterranean as Western powers appeared poised to launch military action against Assad’s regime although U.S. President Barack Obama said he has yet to make a decision.
And Prime Minister David Cameron of chief ally Britain, facing an uphill battle to win parliamentary support for any intervention, said what was at stake was “one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century”.
Cameron admitted there was no 100 percent certainty of who was responsible, but the government insisted military action would be allowed under international law as “humanitarian intervention”.
Rights groups say several hundred people including children were killed when poisonous gas was unleashed in areas east of Damascus on August 21.
The attack, though not the first in Syria where chemical weapons’ use has been alleged, threatens to draw the West into a brutal 29-month conflict which has escalated in the face of deep divisions in the international community.
A Western bombing blitz had appeared imminent earlier this week, but U.S. allies now appear more reluctant to act before hearing the results of the U.N. probe.
Ban said the U.N. experts — on a third day of inspections of alleged attack sites near Damascus — would leave Syria by Saturday and report to him immediately.
He appealed to divided powers to work together to head off military action against Syria, where the U.N. says over 100,000 have been killed and almost three million made homeless since the uprising against Assad first erupted in March 2011.
“Diplomacy should be given a chance … peace (should) be given a chance,” Ban said.
With any U.S.-led missile strike unlikely to have U.N. Security Council backing, key Damascus allies Russia and Iran again warned against any Western intervention, saying it could set off a wider regional conflict.