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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Syria 'Chemical Weapons' Crisis: Live Updates

Syria 'Chemical Weapons' Crisis: Live Updates

U.N. chemical weapons experts visit a hospital where wounded people affected by an apparent gas attack are being treated, in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya, August 26, 2013. (Reuters)U.N. chemical weapons experts visit a hospital where wounded people affected by an apparent gas attack are being treated, in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya, August 26, 2013. (Reuters)

International pressure has been building for a military strike on Syria in the wake of an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb. The West has laid the blame at the feet of President Assad, as UN inspectors probe the site of the attack.

Tuesday, August 27 

17:17 GMT: The US will release a public version of an intelligence report on chemical weapons use in Syria “in the coming days,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. He added that the options the US government is considering “are not about regime change” in Syria, but will come as a response to the“violation of an international norm.”
16:33 GMT: French President Francoise Hollande has announced he will hold a defense council meeting on Wednesday, and that he will brief the French parliament about it.
16:23 GMT: UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called for “specific” military action against Syria, saying the UK is not considering getting involved in a Middle East war.

Cameron said no decision has yet been taken on possible responses to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

However, he added that the world “should not stay idly by,” following what he said was a chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.
16:04 GMT: Britain “is not seeking to topple Assad,” UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was quoted as saying by AFP.
“What we're considering is a serious response... What we're not considering is regime change, trying to topple the Assad regime, Clegg said
15:57 GMT: Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has criticized the actions of Western countries in the Islamic world, amid reports of pressure building for a military strike against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The West is behaving toward the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade,”
 Rogozin wrote on his Twitter page, using a farcical Russian expression that describes something unpredictable and dangerous.

Rogozin is known for using colorful impromptu language on his Twitter account, which he started tweeting from when he was Russia’s ambassador to NATO in Brussels.
15:31 GMT: French President Francoise Hollande said France is “ready to punish” those behind the“chemical massacre” in Syria, and said that his government believes Damascus carried out the attack. 
France's president Francois Hollande delivers a speech during the Conference of French ambassadors abroad, on August 27, 2013 at the Elysee palace in Paris. (AFP Photo / Kenzo Trebouillard)
France's president Francois Hollande delivers a speech during the Conference of French ambassadors abroad, on August 27, 2013 at the Elysee palace in Paris. (AFP Photo / Kenzo Trebouillard)

France is going to increase military support to the Syrian opposition, the president said, addressing foreign ambassadors in Paris.

“International law must evolve with the times... I recognize the responsibility to protect civilians,” Hollande was quoted as saying by France 24.
14:56 GMT: NATO supports the ongoing investigation of the UN inspectors, but will continue to closely monitor developments and review the evidence that is presented both by the UN and from“other sources,” a NATO official said in an e-mail statement to RT. NATO member countries are “deeply concerned by mounting evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” the official said, adding that NATO “has consistently expressed its grave concern about Syria’s chemical stockpiles and any possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.”
14:44 GMT: US President Barack Obama has not yet made the decision to take military action against the Syrian government in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack, a senior White House administration official told Reuters.
14:39 GMT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is not involved in Syrian conflict, but would respond with force to any attacks coming from Syria.

“We are not a party to this civil war in Syria but if we identify any attempt to attack us we will respond and we will respond forcefully,” Netanyahu said after holding security consultations in Tel Aviv, adding that Israel is “prepared for any scenario.”
14:34 GMT: France's government believes that there is “no doubt” a chemical attack took place in Syria, and that President Assad’s forces were behind it, a diplomatic source told Reuters. 
14:06 GMT: The Arab League said the perpetrators of last week’s attack in Syria should face international justice, and urged the UN to act. The League said in a statement it holds Syrian President Bashar Assad responsible for the alleged chemical attack near Damascus. The statement, which was issued after a meeting in Cairo, was pushed through with strong backing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, diplomatic sources told Reuters.
13:46 GMT: A Russian cargo plane carrying humanitarian aid has landed in Syria, the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry said. The plane, which delivered some 20 tons of food aid to the Mediterranean port city of Latakia, will also evacuate 180 citizens of former Soviet countries “who have made clear a desire to leave the country,” including 100 Russians, the ministry added.
12:41 GMT: A UN spokesperson has announced that the planned visit to the site of last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack has been postponed over “safety fears.” 
12:29 GMT: The US is ready to act immediately, should President Barack Obama order military action against Syria, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a television interview with the BBC on Tuesday.
“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take, Hagel said during a trip to Brunei, adding that the military was ready to respond “just like that.
12:26 GMT: Russia on Tuesday warned that military intervention in Syria could have “catastrophic consequences” for the whole region and called on the international community to show “prudence.”
“Attempts to bypass the Security Council, and 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,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.
“We call on our American partners and all members of the world community to demonstrate prudence [and] strict observance of international law, especially the fundamental principles of the UN Charter,” he said.
12:20 GMT: Western powers have told the Syrian opposition a strike is to be expected within days, sources who attended a meeting between Western envoys and the Syrian National Coalition told Reuters. The Syrian opposition has already provided Western governments with a list of suggested targets for missile strikes, they said. According to the sources, such strikes would aim to deter further chemical attacks. Despite the impending attack, the Syrian opposition was advised by Western governments to prepare for the proposed Geneva-2 peace conference, the sources said.
“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, one of the sources was quoted as saying. 
12:07 GMT: Britain’s parliament will be recalled Thursday to vote on the UK’s government’s response to the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron said.

British armed forces are preparing an emergency plan in case of armed response to the attack, Downing Street has announced Tuesday.

“The international community must respond” to the incident in Syria, Cameron’s spokesman said.
11:56 GMT: NATO countries will discuss the situation in Syria at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussells, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino has announced.

Any military strike against Syria must first be authorized by the UN Security Council, Bonino stressed.

“Italy will not take active part in any military action... beyond the context of the Security Council, which for us is and remains the only point of legal reference that cannot be ignored,” the minister said.
11:44 GMT: Jordan will not be used as a “launchpad” for military intervention in Syria, a senior Jordanian government official told AFP after a meeting of Western and Muslim army chiefs in Amman.

“Jordan’s position has not changed. Jordanian territory will not be used as a launchpad for any military action against Damascus,” the official said on condition of anonymity, referring to Amman’s repeated calls for political solution in Syria.

There won’t be any public announcement of the results of the talks in Jordan “because of the nature of the meeting,” the official added.
11:00 GMT: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged all sides in Syrian conflict to “give safe passage and access” to the UN chemical weapons investigation team. 
10:17 GMT: Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that “no country in the world uses weapons of mass destruction against its own people,” in a press conference in Damascus. He denied claims that the Syrian government had delayed the UN inspectors’ probe of the Ghouta site. 
“UN team did not ask to go to site until Saturday,” said Muallem, stressing that government permission was granted on Sunday. 
He described the use of chemical weapons as an excuse for foreign powers to intervene and warned Syria would retaliate if attacked.

“We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal. The second choice is the best: we will defend ourselves,” the minister said. 
10:00 GMT: British Prime Minister David Cameron has said that any decision on Syria will be taken under a “strict international framework.” Cameron’s words appeared to contradict a statement made Monday by his foreign secretary, William Hague, who told the BBC that the international community could intervene in Syria without the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council.
British Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London on August 27, 2013, after returning early from a holiday to address the Syria crisis. (AFP Photo / Carl Court)
British Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London on August 27, 2013, after returning early from a holiday to address the Syria crisis. (AFP Photo / Carl Court)

09:50 GMT: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has decried last week’s supposed chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta as “a crime against humanity.”
"This is a crime against humanity and a crime against humanity should not go unanswered, what needs to be done must be done. Today, it is clear the international community is faced with a test," Davutoglu told reporters.
09:45 GMT: Foreign Affairs Committee chairman of the Russian Duma, Aleksey Pushkov posted on his Twitter, alleging the US had already made the decision to strike Syria and they had gone too far.
“The decision for a massive military strike on Syria has basically already been made. The US has gone too far with its rhetoric to go back now,” wrote Pushkov.
09:30 GMT: Moscow has voiced “regret” over a US decision to put off bilateral talks over Syria. Russia has sought to placate calls for military action over the alleged use of chemical weapons, saying there is no evidence of the Assad regime’s complicity.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov tweeted a response to the move Tuesday morning, expressing concern over Washington’s decision.
“It is a pity that our western partners have decided to cancel the bilateral US-Russian meeting to discuss calls for an international conference on Syria,” Gatilov wrote on Twitter.
Russian and American officials had been scheduled to meet in The Hague on Wednesday for bilateral talks on the Syrian conflict. 
09:19 GMT: The US' Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, voiced her condemnation of Wednesday's supposed attack.
03:55 GMT: US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the Obama administration is "all but certain" that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to attack innocent civilians.
“While investigators are gathering additional information on the ground, our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscious and guided by common sense,” Sec. Kerry said. “The reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the first-hand accounts from the humanitarian organizations on the ground . . . these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us are real: that chemical weapons were used in Syria.”
“Moreover, we know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these weapons,” Kerry added. 
US Secretary of State John Kerry (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (AFP Photo / Jewel Samad)


Kerry further said the reports “should shock the conscience of the world,”adding that the indiscriminate slaughter of women and children carried out by the Assad regime constitutes a “moral obscenity.”
President Barack Obama has yet to make a determination about how the US will respond, Kerry said, but a decision would be forthcoming. The US has already mobilized warships in the Mediterranean Sea which may begin striking Syrian target upon permission from Washington. 

Monday, August 26

18:56 GMT: Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the Obama administration is "all but certain" that the Syrian government used chemical weapons to attack innocent civilians.

“While investigators are gathering additional information on the ground, our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscious and guided by common sense,”
 Sec. Kerry said. “The reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the first-hand accounts from the humanitarian organizations on the ground... these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us are real: that chemical weapons were used in Syria.”

“Moreover, we know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these weapons,” Kerry added.

Kerry further said the reports “should shock the conscience of the world,” adding that the indiscriminate slaughter of women and children carried out by the Assad regime constitutes a “moral obscenity.”

President Barack Obama has yet to make a determination about how the US will respond, Kerry said, but a decision would be forthcoming. The US has already mobilized warships in the Mediterranean Sea which may begin striking Syrian target upon permission from Washington.
18:30 GMT: Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minister David Cameron that Russia hasno evidence of whether a chemical weapons attack took place in Syria or who would be responsible if one did. 
Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskyi)

The two leaders had an urgent phone call on Monday afternoon regarding the Syrian crisis in the wake of a sniper attack on UN chemical inspectors outside Damascus, according to Cameron’s official website. 
17:00 GMT: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would  participate with any international coalition moving against Assad if the United Nations failed to draft sanctions against Syria in response to the alleged chemical weapon attack.
Davutoglu said that while acting within the framework of the UN was a top priority, the country would join a coalition if no United Nations mandate was forthcoming, he said in comments published in the Milliyet daily. 
He added that around three dozen countries were currently discussing options.
16:00 GMT: On Monday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said any action taken against Syria would only be done in concert with the international community and within a legal framework, Reuters reports.
Hagel, speaking to reporters during a trip to Indonesia, refused to comment on military options being mulled by the White House or if a military response was forthcoming.
A senior US official said Hagel would reach out to his British and French counterparts to discuss the situation in Syria.
Germany also implied for the first time that it would support an international military response against Syria if it were confirmed that Syrian government forces deployed chemical weapons last week.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday that if the UN team confirmed the Syrian government’s deployment of chemical weapons, “it must be punished.”
A United Nations (UN) arms experts inspecting the site where rockets had fallen in Damascus' Moadamiyet al-Sham suburb as they investigate an alleged chemical weapons strike near the capital. (AFP Photo)
A United Nations (UN) arms experts inspecting the site where rockets had fallen in Damascus' Moadamiyet al-Sham suburb as they investigate an alleged chemical weapons strike near the capital. (AFP Photo)

Seibert says the government has “very clear evidence that this was a chemical weapons attack.” He would not elaborate on what kind of response would be warranted, although he did not rule out the use of force.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also said that if an attack is confirmed, “Germany would be among those who consider consequences to be appropriate.” 
15:57 GMT: The Syrian National Coalition, the official opposition to President Bashar Assad, has called off the long-delayed peace summit in Geneva, following an alleged chemical attack last week.

“We refused to speak about Geneva after what's happened. We must punish this dictator, Bashar the Chemist we call him, and then we can discuss Geneva," coalition Secretary General Badr Jamous told Reuters in Istanbul.
The Syrian National Coalition was meeting with international opposition backers Friends of Syria in Istanbul, nominally to discuss the upcoming peace talks.
Opposition leaders have blamed Bashar Assad for unleashing Wednesday’s chemical assault on a rebel-controlled Damascus suburb, which Doctors without Borders (MSF) says took at least 355 lives.
14:08 GMT: There is no evidence that the Syrian government ordered the recent massacre with chemical weapons, but the West will blame it anyway because they want war, investigative journalist Neil Clark told RT.
Clark views the current situation in Syria as a replay of events leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
“They went in there [Iraq], they found no weapons, and yet we still had the war. In fact, they launched the war before the weapons inspection team could finish their job.  It is a very similar scenario now in Syria,“ he argues.
Clark further characterized the latest developments in the Syrian conflict as a “charade.”
“We are going to see these inspection teams going to this site and whatever they do the Syrian government will be blamed for [it]. The US has made it quite clear and William Hague has made that quite clear.  They will blame the Syrian government whatever the evidence or lack of evidence. There is no evidence that the Syrian government ordered this massacre with chemical weapons, they still are going to blame them because they want war.”
11:47 GMT: UN experts set off from central Damascus on Monday to investigate the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, a day after the Assad government gave the “green light” to allow investigators access to the site.
A six-car convoy of chemical weapons experts wearing blue UN body armor was accompanied by a car of security forces as well as an ambulance, Reuters reports. 
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube by Moadamiyet al-Sham media centre on August 26, 2013 allegedly shows the United Nations (UN) arms experts convoy leaving Damascus' Moadamiyet al-Sham suburb following an inspection visit on August 26 to investigate an alleged chemical weapons strike near the capital. (AFP Photo)
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube by Moadamiyet al-Sham media centre on August 26, 2013 allegedly shows the United Nations (UN) arms experts convoy leaving Damascus' Moadamiyet al-Sham suburb following an inspection visit on August 26 to investigate an alleged chemical weapons strike near the capital. (AFP Photo)

They said they were on their way to the rebel-held outskirts of the Syrian capital known as Eastern Ghouta, the alleged site of the world’s worst chemical attack in decades.  
12:24 GMT: Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the West of engineering a campaign to facilitate military intervention in Syria.
“[Officially] Washington, London and Paris say they have incontrovertible evidence that the Syrian government is behind the chemical attack in Damascus, but they have not yet presented this evidence. Yet, they keep saying that the ‘red line’ has been crossed,” Lavrov said during an emergency press conference in Moscow.
“Now, we are hearing calls for a military campaign against Bashar Assad.”
Lavrov said that the US, Britain and other countries have assembled a “powerful force” and are “readying their ships and planes” for a possible invasion.

The minister said that the development set the world on a "perilous path" and warned that “repeating the Iraqi and Libyan scenario” and bringing in outside forces, would be a “terrible mistake that will lead to more blood being spilled”.
11:15 GMT: A UN inspection team was forced to return to a government checkpoint to replace their car after it came under sniper fire. The team had been dispatched to take soil samples near the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in an eastern suburb of Damascus.
09:00 GMT: UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said a response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria could be forthcoming even without the unanimous consent of the UN Security Council, has said.
“I would argue yes it is, otherwise it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, such crimes, and I don't think that's an acceptable situation," Hague said on BBC radio, when asked whether it would be possible to respond to the use of chemical weapons without the backing of the UN Security Council.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Royal Navy is reportedly moving ships into place for a possible strike with the US on Syria in the next few days.
07:51 GMT: Syrian President Bashar Assad said claims that his government has used chemical weapons made by Western countries are “an insult to common sense” and “nonsense.”

"The statements made by the politicians in the USA and in other Western countries represent an insult to common sense and neglect of the public opinion of citizens in those countries. It’s nonsense: first, they bring charges, and then they collect evidence. And it’s one of the most powerful countries that does it – the US. They accused us on Wednesday, and in only two days the American leadership announces they started to collect the evidence.… They accuse our army of using chemical weapons in the area that’s reportedly controlled by the terrorists. In fact, there is no precise front line between the army and the insurgents in that area. And how can a government use chemical weapons – or any other weapons of mass destruction – in the area where government troops are concentrated? This is against elementary logic," the Syrian leader said in an interview with the Russian daily Izvestia.

Sunday, August 25


21:35 GMT: Although Washington does not know who is behind the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, it is “fixing the intelligence around the objective”, which is to topple the Syrian government, anti-war activist Richard Becker from the ANSWER coalition told RT.

“It’s almost incomprehensible to almost anybody, who thinks logically that the Syrian government would launch a poison gas attack at the very time the UN investigators are in the country investigating an earlier reported use of nerve gas in the country. So, we have really the US doing what it wants to do, saying what it wants to say to try to mobilize public opinion in the United States to justify potential intervention,” he argues.
15:49 GMT: US President Barack Obama is headed down the same path as his predecessor, George W. Bush, in his push for a military solution in Syria, Foreign Affairs Committee chairman of the Russian Duma, Aleksey Pushkov said.

“Obama is fiercely moving towards war in Syria, just like Bush moved towards war in Iraq. Just like in Iraq, this war won’t be legit and Obama will become Bush’s clone,” Pushkov wrote on his Twitter page on Sunday.
Obama and UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, agreed in a phone conversation on Saturday that last week’s alleged chemical weapon attack near Damascus was “almost certainly” carried out by Bashar Assad’s Syrian government.
13:39 GMT: The head of the Syria-based and Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusa front has vowed unrestrained rocket attacks on Alawite communities, alongside attacks on President Bashar Assad’s government in revenge for an alleged chemical strike, according to a new recording.
“For every chemical rocket that had [has] fallen on our people in Damascus, one of their villages will, by the will of God, pay for it,” said Jabhat al-Nusra leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani in the audio footage released on YouTube on Sunday. It was posted on a militant website which usually broadcasts the views of Al-Qaeda and similar extremist groups.
It simultaneously appeared on the group’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, suggesting that it was authentic. However, it could not immediately be verified for its authenticity.
“On top of that we will prepare a thousand rockets that will be fired on their towns in revenge for the Damascus Ghouta massacre,” al-Golani continued.
Assad’s government is largely comprised of Alawite Muslims – a branch of Shi’ite Islam whose villages’ al-Golani swore he would target. Alawites make up roughly 12 percent of Syria’s population.
12:56 GMT:  On Sunday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry announced an agreement was “concluded in Damascus between the Syrian government and the United Nations during the visit of the UN high representative for disarmament, Angela Kane, to allow the UN team led by Professor Aake Sellstroem to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Damascus province.”
The agreement "is effective immediately".
Syrian authorities pledge to impose a ceasefire during the UN team inspection.
Russia has welcomed the move but has called on all the sides, “trying to influence the results of the investigation in advance”, not to “make tragic mistakes”. 
11:50 GMT: Tehran has warned Washington not to cross “the red line” on Syria threatening it would have severe political consequences.
"America knows the limitation of the red line of the Syrian front and any crossing of Syria's red line will have severe consequences for the White House," the Iranian Fars news agency quoted deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, Massoud Jazayeri, as saying.
Syrian authorities also warned the United States against any military intervention, saying this would "inflame the Middle East".
"US military intervention will create very serious fallout and a ball of fire that will inflame the Middle East,"Information Minister Omran Zoabi told the Syrian state news agency, SANA.
The warning comes as Western officials stated they are considering “a serious response” from the international community to the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Arab state.
05:07 GMT: Only 9 percent of Americans believe President Barack Obama should take action on Syria, while some 60 percent of Americans said the United States should not intervene in Syria's bloody civil war, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll suggests.
According to the poll taken on August 19-23, 25 percent of Americans would back intervention if it is proven that the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians, while almost double that number – 46 percent – would still oppose such a move.

Saturday, August 24


15:23 GMT: Nearly 3,600 patients with neurotoxic symptoms were treated in three Damascus hospitals on the day a toxic gas attack was reported, say Doctors Without Borders (MSF). 355 patients were reportedly pronounced dead. 
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube allegedly shows a UN inspectors (C) visiting a hospital in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham. (AFP Photo)
An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube allegedly shows a UN inspectors (C) visiting a hospital in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham. (AFP Photo)

The international medical humanitarian organization said it received information from hospitals it has been supporting in Syria.
“Medical staff working in these facilities provided detailed information to MSF doctors regarding large numbers of patients arriving with symptoms including convulsions, excess saliva, pinpoint pupils, blurred vision and respiratory distress,” MSF director of operations, Dr. Bart Janssens said in a press-release published on the organization’s webpage.
However, MSF could not “scientifically confirm the cause of these symptoms”.
“The reported symptoms of the patients, in addition to the epidemiological pattern of the events—characterized by the massive influx of patients in a short period of time, the origin of the patients, and the contamination of medical and first aid workers—strongly indicate mass exposure to a neurotoxic agent,”Janssens says in the report.
10:12 GMT: Syrian rebels allegedly used chemical weapons against government forces in the Damascus suburb of Jobar, where soldiers reportedly discovered toxic poisoning antidotes, the Syrian state news agency SANA reports. 
A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on August 24, 2013 shows bags and containers of what the Syrian government claims to be materials used to make chemical weapons discovered in Jobar on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. (AFP Photo)
A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on August 24, 2013 shows bags and containers of what the Syrian government claims to be materials used to make chemical weapons discovered in Jobar on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. (AFP Photo)

The agency, citing an “official source”, further said cases of suffocation were reported among soldiers in the area.
The source told the agency that army unit pushed into the area, where soldiers were attacked, and seized a warehouse containing material labeled 'Made in KSA' as well as a large number of protective masks.
In addition, the army discovered a stockpile of chemical poisoning antidotes with 'The Qatari-German Company for Pharmaceutical Industries' label on them.
00:08 GMT: The Pentagon is making “initial preparations” for a cruise missile attack on Syrian government forces, according to a new report. The preparations come despite President Obama’s reluctance to intervene in the Syrian conflict.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey is expected to present options for such a strike at a White House meeting on Saturday, CBS News reported on Friday.

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel suggested Friday naval forces are moving in position closer to Syria in the event that Obama opts for intervention.

"The Defense Department has a responsibility to provide the president with options for contingencies, and that requires positioning our forces, positioning our assets, to be able to carry out different options — whatever options the president might choose," Hagel said, adding a decision must be made quickly given “there may be another (chemical) attack.”

Friday, August 23

20:13 GMT: Barack Obama has cautioned against US entry into the Syrian conflict, even though the American intelligence community believes the Syrian government was likely behind a deadly chemical attack earlier this week. Previously, the president had said chemical warfare was a ‘red line’ which would incite US intervention in the conflict.

Questioned on the continuing upheaval in Syria and Egypt during Friday’s CNN interview, Obama said the United States should be wary of “being drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region.” 
Obama further stressed that questions of international law would need to be taken into consideration before the US decided to act.
"If the US goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, [and] do we have the coalition to make it work?”
16:29 GMT: Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller fears Americans traveling to Syria could return with plans “to undertake an attack upon the homeland.”

“[When] you have individuals traveling to those venues [like Syria], you are concerned [first] about the associations they will make, and secondly about the expertise they will develop and whether or not they will utilize those associations, utilize that expertise, to undertake an attack upon the homeland,” Mueller told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas in an exclusive interview.
15:56 GMT: The Syrian opposition said they will ensure the safety of UN chemical weapons experts as they pass through rebel-controlled areas, adding that their successful arrival at the site of an alleged gas attack near Damascus within 48 hours was “critical.”
“We will ensure the safety of the U.N. team ... It is critical that those inspectors get there within 48 hours,”Khaled Saleh, spokesman for the opposition, told a news conference in Istanbul. 
A UN inspector (C) listening to the testimony of a man in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham. (AFP Photo)
A UN inspector (C) listening to the testimony of a man in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham. (AFP Photo)

The UN inspectors requested access to Damascus suburbs “without delays” on Thursday in order to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in attacks in the country. 
14:14 GMT: The US is supporting for jihadists throughout the Middle East, undermining democratic governments in the region and their own values in order to protect its oil industry, Colin Cavell, author of Exporting ‘Made in America’ Democracy, told RT. 
11:37 GMT: Materials implicating the forces of Syrian president Bashar Assad in a recently alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus were prepared prior to the incident on August 21, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“We’re getting more new evidence that this criminal act was of a provocative nature,” he stressed. “In particular, there are reports circulating on the Internet, in particular that the materials of the incident and accusations against government troops had been posted for several hours before the so-called attack. Thus, it was a pre-planned action,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, said in a statement.
07:28 GMT: The Syrian government cannot guarantee the security or even entry for UN experts attempting to access the site of the alleged chemical attack which recently took place, as the opposition controls that area of Damascus, Oxford University historian Mark Almond told RT.
“You have to ask with any crime scene, to whose benefit is the crime? And the Syrian government would have to be not only very brutal, but very stupid to have done this in a period when UN chemical weapons inspectors are just down the road in Damascus, Almond argues.
Almond believes if Damascus was behind it, special troops would have been deployed under the“cover of chaos” to prevent documentary footage from emerging from the scene which has been widely distributed by rebel forces. 
An image grab taken from a video shows opposition fighter holding a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) as his fellow comrades take cover from an attack by regime forces during clashes over the strategic area of Khanasser, situated on the only road linking Aleppo to central Syria. (AFP Photo / Salah Al-Ashkar)
An image grab taken from a video shows opposition fighter holding a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) as his fellow comrades take cover from an attack by regime forces during clashes over the strategic area of Khanasser, situated on the only road linking Aleppo to central Syria. (AFP Photo / Salah Al-Ashkar)

“This, after all, is the area controlled by the opposition. So a further problem arises with the demands Syrian government permit experts to visit the scene. Syrian government does not control the scene of the crime, if this crime is being committed. It is up to the rebels. Yet we see no attempt to press the rebels to cooperate. So in fact, it seems to be primarily to embarrass the Syrian government, to say, ‘Why don’t you let the experts go to the scene?’ where the fact is they don’t control the scene and therefore could not guarantee their security or even possibly enable them to enter the area where these attacks are supposed to have taken place.”
03:23 GMT: The use of chemical weapons in Syria would constitute a “crime against humanity,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, adding that there will be “serious consequences” if the reports transpire to be true.
"Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law," Ban said at a scheduled event in the South Korean capital of Seoul on Friday. "Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator," he added. 
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (AFP Photo / Evan Schneider)
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon (AFP Photo / Evan Schneider)

Ban urged both the government and opposition to cooperate with the UN investigation into the alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus. "I can think of no good reason why any party – either government or opposition forces – would decline this opportunity to get to the truth of the matter."
"This is a grave challenge to the entire international community - and to our common humanity, especially considering it occurred when the United Nations expert mission is in the country," the UN chief said.

Thursday, August 22 

20:32 GMT: US senator John McCain on Thursday says he no longer trusts President Obama’s word on Syria, arguing that military intervention in the war-torn country could be launched quickly and “easily”.
The Arizona Republican told CNN’s Kate Boulduan that the US military could destroy Syrian President Bashar Assad’s runways and aircraft within “a couple of days”, quickly arm rebels and establish a no-fly zone easily.
“There would be no boots on the ground,” he said. “We would use standoff weapons just as the Israelis have four times as they’ve taken out targets inside Syria. We would not put a single life at risk.”
McCain, a ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, said the president’s failure to take action in response to the violent turbulence in Egypt shows that the US has no policies or strategies that can be trusted.
“There is no policy. And there is no strategy. And therefore we react and we react poorly,” he said. “One of the best examples is Syria where the president said Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons, that’s a red line. He’s used them and we have done virtually nothing in response to that.”
15:02 GMT: Recent chemical attacks in Syria are nothing but a staged provocation, as the opposition forces want to disrupt any negotiations and trigger foreign intervention, and western forces are part of it, Brian Becker, the Director at Answer Coalition, told RT.
“The big goal of those who carry out the staged provocations is to disrupt any negotiations that could lead to a positive outcome to the existing Syrian government, meaning that the forces of the civil war had not succeeded in lagging the Assad government, which is their only goal,” Becker argues.
He continues that in the absence of popular support, the rebels hope the chemical weapons attack will prompt an “escalated intervention” which will see the establishment of no fly zones and the eventual bombing of Syria.
11:23 GMT: The Syrian government is ready to offer its full cooperation with UN experts seeking to clarify the alleged use of chemical weapons in, The Russian Foreign Ministry says. The UN has requested access to Damascus suburbs be granted “without delays”.Speaking on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich said Moscow hopes that UN experts will conduct an“objective investigation of all possible cases of use of chemical weapons on Syrian territory.”
A convoy of United Nations (UN) vehicles leave a hotel in Damascus (AFP Photo)
A convoy of United Nations (UN) vehicles leave a hotel in Damascus (AFP Photo)

"We hope that the results will clarify the issue and will help to dispel numerous speculations around the alleged use of the Syrian chemical weapons that simultaneously create a positive background for the moves towards the start of the political process of settlement of the Syrian crisis", he continued.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Syrian government to allow a UN team, led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, to visit the site in the Damascus suburbs.
"A formal request is being sent by the United Nations to the government of Syria in this regard. He expects to receive a positive response without delay," Ban’s office said in a statement.
07:17 GMT: France has called the international community to respond with force if it is confirmed that the Syrian government carried out a chemical attack on civilians.

"There would have to be reaction with force in Syria from the international community, but there is no question of sending troops on the ground," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on the French television network BFM.

He continued that the situation could be handled "in other ways" if the UN Security Council failed to make a decision, although he did not elaborate on what those measures might be.

The French minister further said that any refusal on the part of Damascus to allow an inspection would be paramount to an admission of guilt.
02:00 GMT: The United Nations Security Council UNSC siad it is seeking “clarity” on recent conflicting claims of chemical weapons use near Damascus, adding that humanitarian aid needs to be provided to the victims as soon as possible.
“There must be clarity on what happened and the situation must be followed carefully,” UN Permanent Representative of Argentina and President of the Security Council, Maria Cristina Perceval, told reporters after a closed-door emergency meeting of the UNSC on Wednesday.
“All council members agree that any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances is a violation of international law,” Perceval said, stating that members "welcomed the determination of the secretary general to ensure a thorough, impartial investigation." 

Wednesday, August 21

16:35 GMT: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff does not believe the Syrian rebels would support US interests if the United States helps them defeat President Bashar Assad, according to a letter by General Martin Dempsey obtained by AP."The use of US military force can change the military balance,” Dempsey said. “But it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict,” Demply wrote in a letter to Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). 
“Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides,'' Dempsey continued. “It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.''
15:44 GMT: Reports by “biased regional media” about alleged chemical weapons use near Damascus might be “a provocation planned in advance,” says Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich
“It draws attention to the fact that biased regional media have immediately, as if on command, begun an aggressive information attack, laying all the responsibility on the government,” Lukashevich said in a statement on Wednesday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry, citing its sources, said that a homemade rocket carrying unidentified chemical substances had been launched from an area controlled by the opposition.

“A homemade rocket with a poisonous substance that has not been identified yet – one similar to the rocket used by terrorists on March 19 in Khan al-Assal - was fired early on August 21 [at Damascus suburbs] from a position occupied by the insurgents,” Lukashevich said.
15:12 GMT: Reports of a massive chemical weapons attack in Syria are facing a credibility gap, as Al Arabiya, the origin of the story, is not a neutral in the Syrian conflict, geopolitical analyst William Engdahl argues. Engdahl says AL Arabiya, which is majority-owned by the Saudi broadcaster Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), is prone to anti-Assad rhetoric as Saudi Arabia has continually sought to topple the Syrian government. 
A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows people inspecting bodies of children and adults laying on the ground as Syrian rebels claim they were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, 2013. (AFP Photo)
A handout image released by the Syrian opposition's Shaam News Network shows people inspecting bodies of children and adults laying on the ground as Syrian rebels claim they were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21, 2013. (AFP Photo)

13:03 GMT: The Syrian government would not benefit from the latest chemical attack in the country, while it would provide the opposition a key pretext to see airstrikes launched within the country, geopolitical analyst Patrick Henningsen told RT
06:27 GMT: Conflicting reports have emerged of a major chemical weapon attack in a Damascus suburb. The casualty figures range from dozens to almost 1,300. The alleged attack came on the same day a UN team arrived to investigate three separate sites in the country where alleged chemical weapons attacks took place.