DAMASCUS: President Bashar Al Assad vowed yesterday to defend Syria from attack as Washington and London laid out their case for punitive military strikes against Damascus over suspected poisonous gas attacks.
The military buildup continued in the Mediterranean as Western powers appeared poised to launch strikes against Assad’s regime.
And Prime Minister David Cameron of 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”.
Hundreds of people including children were reportedly killed when poisonous gas was unleashed on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.
A Western bombing blitz had appeared imminent this week, but US allies now appear more reluctant to act before hearing the results of the UN probe.
And Canada said it was not planning to play a role in any intervention, although it voiced support for its allies on the need for action.
With any US-led missile strikes unlikely to have UN backing, key Damascus allies Russia and Iran again warned against any intervention, saying it could set off a wider conflict.
The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin — whose country is Syria’s top arms supplier — and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had agreed the Security Council must study the weapons report and work to find a settlement.
A defiant Assad vowed “victory” in the face of the Western threats.
“Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression,” state television quoted him as saying.
His regime denies using chemical arms and blames “terrorist” rebels.
The United States said it deployed a fifth destroyer to the eastern Mediterranean while Russia was reportedly sending in two warships and Britain dispatched fighter jets to Cyprus.
The mood among Damascus residents was fearful, while security forces prepared for possible air attacks by pulling back troops from potential targets and imposing tougher security controls.
Southeast of the capital, a car bomb killed nine soldiers in the town of Nabak, on the Homs-Damascus road, sparking clashes between troops and rebels, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
Syria’s nervous neighbours stepped up preparations for conflict, with Israel authorising a partial call-up of army reservists while Turkey put its forces on heightened vigilance.
Fears intervention could ignite a conflagration were stoked further by Iran, whose army warned a strike on Syria would “drive the Zionists to the edge of fire”.
Iran and Syria are main backers of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia which fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006.
And Israeli President Shimon Peres vowed the Jewish state would “respond with all our might” if attacked.
Global financial markets remained on edge, although stocks rebounded while oil prices slipped back from two-year highs on supply fears.