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UK draws up Syria 'action plan'

Source BBC News@

The body of a victim of a suspected chemical weapons attack is lowered into a grave in Hamoria, Damascus (21 August 2013)The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons and blames rebel fighters

David Cameron will consider a recall of Parliament when he returns to No 10 later to deal with the crisis in Syria.

He has cut short a holiday in Cornwall to co-ordinate a response to what the UK and US believe was a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime.

MPs from all parties have demanded they be consulted before any move to support military action is taken.

The suspected chemical attack took place on Wednesday near Damascus, and reportedly killed more than 300 people.

Syrian rebels say the regime carried out a chemical attack, but the government blames rebel forces - saying footage of the attack was "fabricated".

Mr Cameron is to chair a meeting of the National Security Council - attended by military and intelligence chiefs and senior ministers - on Wednesday to discuss potential responses.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, meanwhile, has cancelled a visit to Afghanistan.


Whitehall officials say no firm decision is likely to be taken on how Britain will respond to last week's alleged chemical attack in Syria until at least Wednesday. That is when David Cameron will be chairing a session of the National Security Council, attended by military and intelligence chiefs and senior ministers. It follows intense consultations between London and Washington, with Downing Street keen to stress the two countries are acting in concert.

Any military response, if it's decided on, is most likely to be confined to a one-off or limited guided missile strikes on selected Syrian military targets using Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from US Navy warships stationed hundreds of miles away in the eastern Mediterranean. US vessels there are reported to have about 400 such missiles onboard, while a Royal Navy submarine in the region can also carry cruise missiles.

But Russia, Syria and Iran have all issued strong warnings against any Western military action.

BBC political correspondent Ben Wright said it could be a decisive week for Britain and its involvement in Syria's civil war.

The Labour Party and several Conservative MPs have insisted the government must explain the objectives and legal basis for military action to Parliament before it happens.

However, there is no legal obligation to do so, our correspondent says.

Downing Street said the government would decide on Tuesday "whether the timetable for our response means it will be necessary to recall MPs sooner than Monday", when they had been due to return to Westminster from their summer break.

It is understood the most likely military response to Wednesday's suspected chemical weapons attack would be a one-off or limited guided missile strikes on Syrian military targets fired from US Navy warships, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said.

Mr Cameron has spoken to a number of foreign leaders over the bank holiday weekend including US President Barack Obama and his French and German counterparts.

Mr Cameron and Mr Obama agreed the need for a "firm response" from the international community to the attack.

Downing Street said that Mr Cameron had used a phone call with Vladimir Putin to tell the Russian president there was "little doubt" a chemical weapons attack had been carried out by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

But Mr Putin told him they had no evidence an attack had taken place or who was responsible, it said.

'Fabricated' footage

Russia, a key ally of Syria, has warned that any intervention without a UN mandate would be "a grave violation of international law".

The UN Security Council is made up of 15 states, including five permanent members - China, Russia, France, the US and the UK - who have the power to veto any resolution.

But UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has told the BBC it would be possible for the UK and its allies to respond without the UN's unanimous backing.

UN chemical weapons inspectors visited five sites around Damascus on Monday, although their trip was delayed when their convoy came under sniper attack.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Tony Blair has warned that enduring controversy over the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 should not stop politicians from helping the Syrian people.

Avoiding military intervention could result in "a nightmare scenario" for the West in the Middle East, he wrote in the Times.

"Forces at the heart of the storm" had to be defeated, he said. "We should defeat them, however long it takes, because otherwise they will not disappear.

"They will grow stronger until, at a later time, there will be another crossroads and this time there will be no choice."

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Map showing the areas where the alleged chemical attacks took place in Syria

  • 01:15: 21 August (10:15 GMT 20 Aug): Facebook pages of Syrian opposition report heavy fighting in rebel-held eastern districts of the Ghouta, the agricultural belt around Damascus

  • 02:45: Opposition posts Facebook report of "chemical shelling" in Ein Tarma area of the Ghouta

  • 02:47: Second opposition report says chemical weapons used in Zamalka area of the Ghouta

  • Unverified video footage shows people being treated on pavements in the dark and in a makeshift hospital

  • Reports say chemical weapons were used in Ghouta towns of Irbin, Jobar, Zamalka and Ein Tarma as well as in Muadhamiya to the west, but this is not confirmed

  • Syrian government acknowledges military offensive in the Ghouta but denies chemical weapons use

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