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Video: Parliament recalled as UK and US prepare to bomb Syria

By David Usborne and Heather Saul

Parliament is to be recalled on Thursday, where there will be "a clear Govt motion & vote on UK response to chemical weapons attacks", David Cameron has said on Twitter today.

The Prime Minister's announcement came as Russia warned of "catastrophic consequences" for Syria and other regions within the Middle East if military intervention is taken in response to the attacks last week.

In a statement, foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said: "Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa."

Now, sources who attended a meeting between envoys and the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul are claiming Western powers have told the Syrian opposition to expect a strike against President Bashar al-Assad's forces within days.

"The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva," the source said.

Iran has also since warned against foreign military intervention in Syria after US Secretary of State, John Kerry, last night accused Assad’s Syrian regime of deliberately unleashing chemical weapons on its own citizens in a statement.

GN30927W.jpg
August 27, 2013 -- The United States is repositioning naval forces in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Gulf as it considers a possible military response to an alleged chemical weapons attack near the Syrian capital, Damascus, that killed hundreds. French and British forces in the region could also be involved in any attack. Graphic shows military buildup around Syria and likely targets in Damascus.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi warned there would be "perilous consequences" for the region if a military attack is carried out, according to the Guardian

"We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region," Araqchi told a news conference. "These complications and consequences will not be restricted to Syria. It will engulf the whole region."

But Syria accused Mr Kerry of lying by claiming there is “undeniable” evidence of a large-scale chemical weapons attack in Syria likely carried out by the regime.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem held a press conference this morning and asserted a dispute between rebels had lead to the second day of the UN inspection team's work being postponed until Wednesday.

Speaking from Damascus, he "completely and utterly" denied the government had used chemical weapons despite the US insisting there is "undeniable" proof of a chemical attack.

During the press conference, he warned that if the country was hit by a military strike, it would defend itself using "all means available", but declined to detail exactly what this would involve.

He added that Syria had two choices - either to surrender or fight back - and it would choose the latter.

He accused Mr Kerry of lying and said Assad's government was not obstructing the work of the UN team.

Mr Muallem insisted they had not attempted to obstruct weapons inspectors from visiting the site while evidence was still fresh.

“We didn't argue about the site they wanted to go to. We agreed immediately. There's no delay,” he said.

A statement on the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency says Mr Kerry's insistence on “jumping over” the work of UN experts in the region suggest the US has deliberate intentions to exploit events.

Meanwhile, Britain's armed forces are preparing contingency plans for military action in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria, Downing Street said today.

The Prime Minister has returned early to Downing Street from a family holiday to prepare for a national security council (NSC) meeting tomorrow which will discuss possible UK involvement in using force against the Assad regime.

Officials said David Cameron will continue talks with international leaders to agree a “proportionate response” that will “deter” Bashar Assad's regime from using toxic agents on the Syrian population.

However, they stressed that "no decision has yet been taken".

A spokesperson for No 10 said: "We are continuing to discuss with our international partners what the right response should be, but, as part of this, we are making contingency plans for the armed forces.

"In terms of end game, this is about looking at how we deter the use of chemical weapons because this is something that is completely abhorrent and against all international law."

Former prime minister Tony Blair made urgent calls for intervention in a comment piece written for The Times, arguing that the nation must support the people in Syria "who want what we want" and who should not be forced to choose between "tyranny and theocracy". 

"In Syria, we know what is happening,” he said. “We know it is wrong to let it happen. But leave aside any moral argument and just think of our interests for a moment. Syria, disintegrated, divided in blood, the nations around it destabilised, waves of terrorism rolling over the population of the region; Assad in power in the richest part of the country; Iran, with Russia’s support, ascendant; a bitter sectarian fury running the Syrian eastern hinterland — and us, apparently impotent."

"In this struggle”, he added, “we should not be neutral."

Calling last week’s attack in Damascus “undeniable” and a “moral obscenity”, Mr Kerry suggested that the US possessed “additional information” to back up the allegation.

While he indicated that he and President Barack Obama would continue to consult with allied nations on the best response, he left almost no margin for Washington to back away from taking punitive action. His words were also clearly meant to prepare the US public for military action.

“What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of  the world. It defies any code  of morality,” Mr Kerry said. “The indiscriminate slaughter of  civilians… is a moral obscenity.”

In an uncompromising statement Mr Kerry said evidence of the use of chemical weapons was already "real and compelling" but that "additional information" would be made available in the coming days.

In a clear message to Moscow, he said anyone who continued to claim doubts about the footage of the aftermath of the attack "needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass".

"No matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to ensure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again.

"Anyone who can claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass."

Douglas Alexander, Shadow Foreign Secretary spoke this morning to demand MPs are given a vote on any decisions over British military action in Syria.

Mr Alexander told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: “Of course Parliament should be consulted. I don't think there is any legitimate ground for Parliament not to be consulted.

“I accept that there will be specific military information that reasonably can't be shared. But it is absolutely the right of Parliament, and indeed of the public, to understand the evidence, to understand the case and to understand whether the objectives that are being set for the mission are adjudged to be credible and achievable.”

He added: “I think that there should be a vote in Parliament after the Government sets out its case.

 “I'm not convinced arming the rebels is an appropriate response. I'm unconvinced that an air campaign, which has been much discussed even this morning, can decisively resolve a conflict as complex as that which has unfolded over the last two years in Syria."

Tory MP Adam Holloway, echoed concerns raised by Mr Alexander over the British military taking action in Syria without fully examining the potential consequences. 

The former Grenadier Guards officer told Today the use of chemical weapons was an “appalling crime” but “reaction to horror is not a strategy”.

Mr Holloway said he would be “completely up for a military attack if we could predict what the end state would be”.

But he added: “I don't know what the end state to this reaction is. Apart from remaining with our dear friends the Americans, I don't know what the UK national security interest here is. Can someone tell us?”

“It might actually be quite a good thing (consulting Parliament). I doubt that Parliament would support this, so we could have demonstrated our loyalty to sticking with our American allies but not actually get involved in this, which is, to me, pure foolishness.”

The US State department has postponed a meeting with Russian diplomats on Syria that was scheduled for this week because of America's ongoing review into alleged use of chemical weapons.

The meeting, at The Hague, was to set up an international conference to find a political resolution to the Syrian crisis.

There was no further information on what exactly the US may do, though attacks on targeted sites by cruise missiles fired from naval  assets in the Mediterranean may be the simplest option.

The mood darkened further when United Nations weapons inspectors investigating the chemical weapon attack claims came under sniper fire as they drove to the area despite assurances of their safety from both sides in the civil war.

As he continued a round of diplomatic calls with world leaders, Mr Cameron clashed with Vladimir Putin over Russia's continued insistence that there is "no evidence" of a chemical attack.

Assad denies using the weapons and Moscow - a key regime ally which supplies arms to Syria - has backed claims video footage of victims could be opposition propaganda.

It says military action would be a violation of international law and doomed to fail.

The Prime Minister told Mr Putin there was "little doubt" the regime had used the weapons and then acted to cover up the evidence for five days before allowing the inspectors in, showing it had "something to hide".

Foreign Secretary William Hague suggested force could be legal even if Russia vetoed UN Security Council backing and declined to rule out action, such as targeted air strikes, being launched within days.

Any intervention would be "in accordance with international law and will be based on legal advice to the national security council and to the Cabinet", Mr Hague stressed.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has cancelled a visit to UK troops serving in Afghanistan so that he can attend the NSC meeting.

A spokesman for Mr Clegg said he supported the need for a "strong response" from the international community to the "abhorrent" use of chemical weapons.

The party leaders face significant opposition to British involvement in military action - which may be exposed if Downing Street, as expected, decides to accept cross-party calls for Parliament to be recalled.

MPs are due back from their summer break next Monday but Labour and a growing number of backbench MPs from all parties - including many Tories - are demanding a chance to debate the situation more quickly.

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston said there was no threat to UK national security and Parliament should be consulted to act as a brake to any "headlong rush" into an escalation of the situation.

The chairs of several influential Commons committees also joined forces to table a Commons motion calling for a recall.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said it was "inconceivable" to act before the UN inspectors had completed their work and that MPs' prior approval should be sought in a Commons vote unless the Prime Minister had a "very good reason" not to wait for it.

Sir Menzies said the situation was different from that of Libya - when Parliament met only after action was taken - because in that case there was United Nations backing for humanitarian intervention.

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