Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said that his country would defend itself against any foreign military intervention, according to state media.
“Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression, and threats will only increase its commitment to its principles and its independence,” the embattled Syrian leader told a visiting delegation of Yemeni politicians on Thursday.
Assad’s comments came in response to increasing pressure, particularly from the United States, the UK and France, for a military response to an alleged chemical weapons attack against civilians on August 21.
Earlier, US President Barack Obama said that the US had “concluded” that the Syrian government had carried out the attack. Obama advocated the use of a “tailored, limited” military strike in response.
I have no interest in any open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable
The US president was referring to an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus Eastern Ghouta suburbs last week that aid agencies say killed at least 355 people, and injured as many as 3,000 others.
“We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out,” Obama said in the televised interview, “and if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences” in order to deter the government from repeating such an attack.
Obama did not present any direct evidence to back up his assertion that the Syrian government bears responsibility for the alleged attack, and the government has strongly denied accusations that it was involved.
Arguing for measured intervention after long resisting deeper involvement in Syria, Obama insisted that while Assad’s government must be punished, he intended to avoid repeating the errors made in the 2003 Iraq war.
“I have no interest in any open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable,” Obama said.
The most likely option, US officials say, would be to launch cruise missiles from US ships in the Mediterranean in a campaign that would last several days.
Obama cited chemical weapons dangers to the US Middle Eastern allies Israel, Turkey and Jordan plus the US bases in the region, and said the US national interests could be at risk if Syrian chemical arms fell into the wrong hands.
New hurdles have, however, emerged that appear to have slowed the formation of an international coalition that could use military force to hit Syria.
Earlier on Wednesday, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council failed to reach an agreement on a draft resolution from the British seeking authorisation for the use of force.
Russia objected to international intervention, after its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier rejected the case for ascribing culpability to the Syrian government at this time, adding that foreign military intervention would lead to “destabilisation of […] the country and the region”.
Chinese state media on Thursday said that any military intervention “would have dire consequences for regional security and violate the norms governing international relations”.
Obama administration officials have said they would take action against the Syrian government even without the backing of allies or the UN.
UK parliament to meet
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised British lawmakers he would not go to war until a UN chemical weapons team on the ground in Syria has a chance to report its findings, pushing the UK’s involvement in any potential strike until next week at the earliest.
Cameron called an emergency meeting of parliament on Thursday to vote on whether to endorse international action against Syria, at the same time as his country’s military deployed six Typhoon fighter jets to an airbase in Cyprus.
French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, said on Thursday that a political solution remained the goal in Syria, but that this could only be achieved “if the international community can put a temporary stop to this escalation of violence”.
The French military says that it is ready to commit forces to Syria if given the order by Hollande.
Syria, which is believed to have one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, has denied the charges, and the Syrian government has blamed rebel “terrorists” for releasing the toxins in the August 21 attack and in other attacks against Syrian government forces.