Syria vows to defend itself
Aug 27, 2013 / 12:05 pm
A military strike against Syria from the United States and its allies seemed closer to reality Tuesday as the U.S. defence chief said weapons are in position to attack. Syria vowed to use all possible measures to repel any such strike.
The prospect of a dramatic U.S.-led intervention into Syria's chaotic civil war stems from the Western assertion — still not endorsed by U.N. inspectors — that President Bashar Assad's government was responsible for an alleged chemical attack on civilians outside the capital of Damascus last week.
Syria's foreign minister said his country would defend itself using "all means available," while in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament to hold an emergency vote Thursday on his country's response to the alleged chemical assault. Cameron said the goal of any attack on Syria, if launched, would be to prevent the further use of chemical weapons.
French President Francois Hollande added his voice to the growing clamour for action, saying France is "ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents."
The Arab League also threw its weight behind calls for punitive action, blaming the Syrian government for the toxic attack that activists say killed hundreds of people and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. The announcement by the 22-member body, which is dominated by Gulf powerhouses Saudi Arabia and Qatar, provides indirect Arab cover for any potential military attack by Western powers.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem spoke at a press conference in Damascus as condemnation of Assad's government grew over last week's purported attack with poison gas. He denied that his government was behind the attack and challenged Washington to present proof backing up its accusations.
The United Nations, meanwhile, said its team of chemical weapons experts in Syria had delayed a second trip to investigate the alleged attack near Damascus by one day for security reasons. On Monday, the team came under sniper fire.
Al-Moallem likened U.S. allegations that Assad's regime was behind the attack to false American charges that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country.
"They have a history of lies — Iraq," he said.
"We have the means to defend ourselves and we will surprise everyone," he told reporters in Damascus. "We will defend ourselves using all means available. I don't want to say more than that.""The Secretary-General again urges all sides in the conflict to give safe passage and access to the team," the statement said.
In Geneva, U.N. spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told reporters that the U.N. inspection team might need longer than the planned 14 days to complete its work. She said its goal now is to determine what chemical weapons might have been used in the Aug. 21 attack.
"This is the first priority," she said.
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