ACTION IN SYRIA
Parliament votes against Cameron bidAgence France-Presse . London
British lawmakers rejected their government’s call for punitive military strikes against the chemical-armed Syrian regime Thursday, leaving the United States to act alone.
Before and after the shock House of Commons vote to defy prime minister David Cameron’s bid to win support for military intervention, the White House said America was ready to take unilateral action.
‘We have seen the result of the parliament vote in the UK tonight,’ said Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman.
‘As we’ve said, president Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States.
‘He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable.’
Obama met top national security aides, with a window about to open for possible US strikes to punish Syria.
Obama was meeting his National Security Council at the White House, the official said.
Meanwhile, the French president, Francois Hollande, gave a boost to US plans to forge an international coalition for possible strikes against Syria.
But Russia, the Syrian regime’s most powerful ally, questioned US intelligence on the gas attacks and warned any military strikes without UN backing would deal a serious blow to ‘world order’.
Russia and fellow Syria ally Iran have warned against any intervention, saying it risked sparking a wider conflict in the already volatile Middle East.
NATO also will not take part the attack, alliance head Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Danish media.
‘I see no NATO role in an international reaction to the (Syrian) regime,’ Rasmussen told reporters in the Danish town of Vejle, daily Politiken reported.
While Germany, Italy and Canada ruled out joining any military strikes, Hollande — whose country was a strident opponent of the US-led war on Iraq — said the British vote would not affect his government’s stance.
‘France wants firm and proportionate action against the Damascus regime,’ Hollande said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.
Half of all Americans believe Obama should not intervene militarily in Syria, a poll released on Friday said.
Hundreds of people protested at New York’s Times Square over possible US plans to strike Syria’s regime
Protest also held in Britain, France, Greece, Italy, Germany, Poland, Jordan, Turkey and Palestine.
Syria will reject any partial UN conclusions before full analyses are undertaken, state television said.
The report cited Syria’s foreign minister Walid Muallem as telling the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, by phone that his country would ‘refuse any partial report published by the UN secretary-general before the mission finished its work and the results of analyses of samples taken by the mission came to light.’
In Damascus, UN experts began a final day of investigations into the attacks, visiting an army hospital where victims were reportedly being treated.
The team is due to leave the war-battered country Saturday and report back immediately to UN chief, who has appealed to the West to allow time for their findings to be assessed.
Faced with an impasse at the UN Security Council and the British parliament’s shock rejection of any punitive action against Damascus, the United States has been forced to look elsewhere for international partners.
The US defence secretary, Chuck Hagel, said despite the British vote, the White House was still seeking an ‘international coalition that will act together’ against president Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The British government’s defeat in parliament — by just 13 votes — came after the failure of an 11th-hour effort by British diplomats to win UN backing for action at a meeting of the permanent members of the Security Council.
‘It is clear to me that the British parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly,’ Cameron said.
Gruesome pictures of some of the several hundred reported victims of the August 21 attacks, including children, shocked the world and piled on the pressure for a response that could draw a reluctant West into the Syrian civil war.
The divisions over Syria have further chilled the frosty relations between Washington and Moscow ahead of the G20 summit next week in Saint Petersburg, where pointedly there will be no face-to-face talks between Obama and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Earlier in the week, reports had suggested a Western strike was imminent, but questions have been raised about the quality of the intelligence linking Assad to the gas attack.
But the military build-up was continuing in the region, with US warships armed with scores of cruise missiles converging on the eastern Mediterranean.
Some commentators have questioned the wisdom of Obama dragging the United States into another conflict after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — particularly as al-Qaeda militants are among the rebels fighting the Assad regime.
Some members of the US Congress voiced support for limited surgical strikes, while urging transparency from the administration.
‘It is clear that the American people are weary of war. However, Assad gassing his own people is an issue of our national security, regional stability and global security. We must be clear that the United States rejects the use of chemical weapons by Assad or any other regime,’ said Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House.
Assad’s main arms supplier Russia has blocked all attempts to toughen sanctions against Damascus or authorise outside force to punish or unseat the regime.
Putin’s chief foreign policy aide Uri Ushakov complained Friday that the US was not sharing its intelligence about the gas attacks and so ‘we do not believe it’.
Assad, whose regime strongly denies using chemical weapons and instead blames ‘terrorist’ rebels, remains defiant.
‘Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression,’ he said Thursday, vowing ‘victory’ for his people.
Syria’s jittery neighbours have also taken steps to boost security.
Israel deployed its Iron Dome missile defence system in Tel Aviv, reports said, amid fears Assad or his allies from the Hezbollah Shia militia in Lebanon will retaliate against the Jewish state.
And at least one airline has changed its times for flights into Beirut, with Lebanon always vulnerable to spillovers of the conflict in its larger neighbour.
Fierce fighting also raged on Friday in a town near the Syrian capital, monitors said.
‘Violent fighting is pitting regular armed forces against rebels on the northern and western fronts of Moadamiyet al-Sham,’ the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
‘The army is trying to advance into the town,’ it said, adding that an air raid and a surface-to-surface missile launched by the army had targeted the area southwest of Damascus.
More than 100,000 people have already died in Syria’s vicious 29-month war and about three million more have been force to flee their homes, according to UN figures.
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