Thursday 29 August 2013

More on Syria

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It’s coming: US finalizing plans for military strike on Syria

Two unnamed White House officials told the Associated Press that the Obama administration is still deciding on what Syrian targets will be attacked and to what degree during a military strike that now seems inevitable.

28 August, 2013

While the strike itself will be conducted only after the White House presents the public with what it believes is “undeniable” proof of chemical weapon use carried out by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, intelligence agencies and policy makers are struggling to decide what goals they hope to achieve by launching an attack.

One of the officials granted anonymity to speak to the AP said, "If there is action taken, it must be clearly defined what the objective is and why" and based on "clear facts.” Meanwhile, another official briefed on a potential strike told the Los Angeles Times that the White House may opt for an attack "just muscular enough not to get mocked," but one that wouldn’t be severe enough to warrant a response from Syrian allies Iran and Russia.

"They are looking at what is just enough to mean something, just enough to be more than symbolic," the Times quoted the source as saying.

The US and its allies already have enough resources throughout the region to strike Syria at any moment. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said earlier this week that the American military “was in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take.” Once Pres. Obama authorizes a strike, he said, US forces were “ready to go, like that.”

Leading White House officials have said previously that a strike will likely be launched with the use of American ships mobilized in the Mediterranean Sea, but Reuters reported that additional firepower could be called up from across Europe and Asia.

According to Reuters, the US may be assisted by a French aircraft carrier, at least one French submarine or ship and at least one British cruise missile-carrying nuclear submarine ready to deploy in the Mediterranean. Additionally, the US has F-16 fighter jets ready to fly over Syria and strike from the sky, and has air-defense Patriot missiles adjacent to both Syria’s northern and southern borders. NATO maintains Patriot missiles to the north in Turkey, and the US has an arsenal of their own to the south in Jordan left behind following a military exercise there earlier this year. 

US Navy shows an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Rampagers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 83 preparing to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) on June 17, 2013 in the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP Photo)
US Navy shows an F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Rampagers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 83 preparing to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) on June 17, 2013 in the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP Photo)

Between the US and its European allies, military bases in Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus and Turkey could all be utilized as well for the limited strike once it is officially ordered to occur.

On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his country would use “all means available” to defend against a US strike.

"We have the means to defend ourselves and we will surprise everyone," he said Tuesday, according to the AP. "We will defend ourselves using all means available. I don't want to say more than that," he added.

UK drafts resolution blaming Assad for ‘chemical weapons’ attack
Britain has drafted a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons. In spite of uncertainty over who was behind last week’s attack, western powers are insisting the Syrian government was responsible.

28 August, 2013

UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced the resolution would be tabled in New York later Wednesday on his Twitter feed.

3/3 The resolution will be put forward at a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council later today in New York.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) August 28, 2013

Cameron said the resolution would condemn “the chemical weapons attack by Assad” and authorize “necessary measures to protect civilian lives.” He also stressed that any intervention in Syria would have to be “legal, proportionate” and aimed at minimizing further loss of life.

Earlier this week, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council could potentially be sidestepped, given the extreme circumstances.

The Syrian government has faced a barrage of accusations from the West, alleging the government of President Bashar Assad was behind the alleged chemical weapons attack last Wednesday in the Damascus neighborhood of Ghouta.

French charity Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) reported that 355 people died in the attack.

The Syrian government also maintains that it is the rebels that are using chemical weapons and not the government. Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Maqdad, slammed the US, UK and France for helping rebel groups use chemical weapons.

"We repeat that the terrorist groups are the ones that used [chemical weapons] with the help of the United States, the United Kingdom and France, and this has to stop," he said. "This means these chemical weapons will soon be used by the same groups against the people of Europe," stressed Maqdad.

U.N. chemical weapons experts visit wounded people affected by an apparent gas attack, at a hospital in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya, August 26, 2013. (Reuters/Abo Alnour Alhaji)U.N. chemical weapons experts visit wounded people affected by an apparent gas attack, at a hospital in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya, August 26, 2013. (Reuters/Abo Alnour Alhaji)

The new evidence comes as the US, UK and France are drawing up possible plans for a military response against Syria.

Western media, citing US and UK government sources, have speculated about what form a possible targeted missile strike might take. Fox News said that a targeted missile strike would likely be launched from American and British ships stationed in the East Mediterranean on Thursday night.

A number of news agencies, including Russia's Interfax and RIA, quoted Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, as saying that evidence from witnesses indicates Syrian rebels used a chemical weapon in last week’s attack, not regime forces. However, it appeared that the reports referred not to the latest attack, but to comments made by del Ponte in May about an alleged attack in March.

Britain’s parliament has been recalled from summer recess for an emergency debate on Thursday to decide on an appropriate course of action for Syria.

Russian opposition to intervention

Russia opposes any foreign military intervention in Syria and has reiterated on a number of occasions that there is no concrete evidence the Syrian government was behind last Wednesday’s supposed attack.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the West that any attempts at military intervention would trigger further “destabilization” and could be catastrophic for the Middle East. The Russian government has also urged the international community not to jump to any conclusions while UN investigators are carrying out their probe into the attack.

A team of UN experts is currently at the site of the Ghouta attack in an attempt to discern who was behind the alleged chemical weapons attack. In spite of doubts that too much time has elapsed since the incident for the probe to be accurate, the team insists it has enough evidence to come to a valid conclusion.

BREAKING: British political rows could delay military action against Syria
Facing strong opposition in the UK parliament, military action against the Syrian regime over the alleged use of chemical weapons could be delayed until next Tuesday

28 August, 2013

On Thursday, the House of Commons will be asked by the government to approve a "strong humanitarian response" to the Syrian government’s alleged war crimes.

However, British opposition leader Ed Miliband said he would call on his MPs to vote against the government motion if the amendment calling for the delay of any military action is defeated, the Guardian reports.

"We will continue to scrutinise this motion but at 5.15pm David Cameron totally ruled out a second vote, an hour and a half later he changed his mind,” a Labour source told the Guardian. “Ed was determined to do the right thing. It has taken Labour forcing a vote to force the government to do the right thing."

Among other conditions the Labour Party said it would support military action only if members of the UN Security Council saw the chemical weapons inspectors report first.

A motion in the UK parliament has been called to let the UN Security Council see findings from chemical weapons inspectors before backing any military action in Syria.

The United Nations Security Council must have the opportunity immediately to consider that briefing and that every effort should be made to secure a Security Council Resolution backing military action before any such action is taken,” the motion says.


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