US to continue to seek Syria strike support

Defence Secretary Hagel says US still building “international coalition”, despite UK and Germany ruling out action.

The United States is continuing to seek an “international coalition” for action against Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians, after the UK parliament rejected a resolution endorsing such action, the US Defence Secretary has said.

Chuck Hagel said on Friday that his country would continue to seek international partners who would “act together” in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack on August 21.

Barnaby Phillipps reports about how UK vote on Syria is feared to hurt ties with US

Hagel’s comments came hours after UK Prime Minister David Cameron was dealt an unexpected blow in parliament, with MPs voting against authorising military action in Syria by 285 to 272 votes.

Thursday evening’s vote was non-binding, but in practice the rejection of military strikes means Cameron’s hands are tied.

Philip Hammond, the UK’s defence secretary, said that Britain would not take part in any military action.

Despite the outcome of the vote, the US said it would “continue to consult” with London, “one of our closest allies and friends”.

“President Obama’s decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States,” a White House statement said.

It added that Obama “believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable”.

On Friday, Cameron said that he regretted the failure of the parliament to approve the action, but that he hoped that “the American public, the American people and President Obama will understand” the need to listen to the will of his parliament. 

France calls for action

Meanwhile, in France, President Francois Hollande said that the alleged chemical attacks in Damascus “must not remain unpunished”.

He told the Le Monde newspaper on Friday that while he was not in favour of “an international intervention that aims at ‘liberating’ Syria or overthrow the dictator,” he did think “a halt needs to be brought to a regime that commits irreparable harm on its population”.

He said that if the “[UN] Security Council is unable to act, a coalition will form” which should be “as broad as possible”.

Hollande also clarified that his country was not deterred by the UK parliament’s move regarding that country’s participation in military action, and that “all options” remain on the table in terms of a response.

The French parliament is due to meet on Wednesday for an emergency Syria session.

Germany pulls out

The comments came as German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added Germany to the list of countries that would not be engaging in the military action.

Westerwelle told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper that such action had “neither been asked nor is it being considered by us,” according to comments pre-released by the paper.

“We are pushing for the United Nations Security Council to find a common position and for the work of UN inspectors to be finished as quickly as possible,” he added.

UN chemical inspectors in Syria continued their work on the final day of site visits in Syria on Friday, heading to a military hospital in the Mazzeh district of the capital.

The inspectors are investigating allegations that chemical weapons were used in an attack that aid agencies said killed at least 355 people and injured as many as 3,000 others.

Fierce fighting was reported on Friday by anti-government activists in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham, one of the sites where the August 21 attack reportedly took place.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based rights group, said that the army was attempting to retake the town, and was shelling the area.

Syria denies that it carried out the August 21 attack, and has accused rebels of having carried out a similar attack on August 24 in the Jobar area of Damascus.

On Thursday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that his country would defend itself against any foreign military intervention.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies