UPDATE 3: World powers divided on Syria intervention
Launching a military strike against Syria is not a simple matter to finalise, as Western states adopt dissimilar positions on the issue
Ahram Online, AFP, Reuters , Friday 30 Aug 2013
A placard with the acronym "WMDs?", weapons of mass destruction, is held up during a protest organized by the Stop the War coalition calling for no military attack on Syria from the U.S., Britain or France, across the road from the entrance of Downing Street in London, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013 (Photo: AP)
UN spokesman said that UN experts have finished their work in Syria and will not “expedite” a report on whether chemical weapons have been used. "They are now packing up, they will be leaving Damascus and leaving Syria tomorrow.", Martin Nesirky said.
According to Syrian state television, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus will reject any partial UN conclusion on last week’s deadly gas attacks.
On Thursday, the British government announced its non-involvement in any military action against Syria following a vote in the House of Commons.
A motion designed to help pave the way for a possible intervention, presented by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat ruling coalition, was defeated 285-272 after fierce resistance from the opposition Labour Party headed by Ed Miliband.
"I can give that assurance. I strongly believe in the need for a tough response to the use of chemical weapons, but I also believe in respecting the will of this House of Commons,” Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said.
The vote reflected severe political divisions in London rooted in its military contribution to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Yury Ushakov, chief foreign policy aide of Russian president Vladimir Putin, welcomed the British vote and described it as showing an understanding of the dangers of an attack against Al-Assad’s regime.
Ushakov warned that the current world order might be damaged if a military strike on Syria took place without UN Security Council backing
He also spoke about the US intelligence information on chemical weapons in Syria. "They (US officials) are referring to the classified nature of the information. So someone apparently believes it but we -- not having this information -- we do not believe it," he noted.
Germany appeared to be walking on the same path as Britain as Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle ruled out his country’s participation in the expected military strike against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.
Westerwelle told Saturday's Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung that such a move had "neither been asked nor is it being considered by us," according to pre-released comments 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.
These comments came after an agreement between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Al-Assad’s staunchest supporter, on the need for the UN Security Council to study a report by UN experts on the alleged chemical attacks outside Damascus.
On the other side, the US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel pointed out during a press conference that Washington wants an “international coalition that will act together.”
Nevertheless, he gave no specific information about the countries ready to be part of this coalition.
Hagel also showed respect for the House of Commons’ choice. "Every nation has a responsibility to make its own decisions," he said during a visit to the Philippines.
"We are continuing to consult with the British as with all of our allies. That consultation includes ways forward together on a response to this chemical weapons attack in Syria."
Adopting a tougher tone, French President Francois Hollande said the British stance would not affect his country’s position on the subject.
"France wants firm and proportionate action against the Damascus regime," he said in an interview with Le Monde daily on Friday. The French parliament is due to meet on Wednesday for an emergency Syria session.
"Each country is free to choose whether to take part in such an operation or not. That holds true for Britain and France," he said.
Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino on Friday announced his country’s rejection of military action against Damascus, warning against a “global conflagration.”
"This is how it always begins. Limited strikes without a UN mandate. Syria will obviously react," said Bonino, a former European Union commissioner.
"Even though it seems slower, tougher and sometimes looks like it won't succeed, keeping up diplomatic and political pressure is the only solution," she said.
On a regional level, Israeli army radio announced on Friday the deployment of its Iron Dome defence system in the morning in the greater Tel Aviv area, being justified by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a requirement to “meet current security needs.”
"We are not involved in the war in Syria. But I repeat: if anyone tries to harm Israeli citizens, the Israeli army will respond with force," Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast by Israeli television.
Opposition sources told Reuters that Al-Assad’s forces have removed several Scud missiles, along with dozens of launchers, from a base north of Damascus in a bid to safeguard the weapons from foreign strikes.
Diplomats in the Middle East told the agency that the move from the position in the foothills of the Qalamoun mountains, one of Syria's most heavily militarized districts, appears part of a precautionary but limited redeployment of armaments in areas of central Syria still held by Assad's forces.