Reuters reported on Tuesday that Western powers told the Syrian rebel leadership to expect an attack on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces within days in response to a recent chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb that reportedly killed more than 1,000 people, including women and children.
Envoys from the so-called “Friends of Syria” group, which includes the United States, Britain and France and other Arab states, met with Syrian rebels in Damascus this week in Istanbul and told them, according to one participant, “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.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an interview with the BBC that the U.S. military is “ready to go” and hinted that the U.S. will look to some kind of international humanitarian law to justify a strike. When asked about the Russian foreign minister’s claim that any U.S.-led attack on Assad’s forces “would be a grave violation of international law,” Hagel said, “The law of international humanitarian standards is a pretty important law.”
“[N]o nation, no group of nations is bound by only one dimension of whether they would make a decision to respond to any self defense or any other violation of the kind of humanitarian violations we saw in Syria,” Hagel said. “We are working with the United Nations. Our partners are working with the United Nations and that’s an appropriate action to take.”
“We’ll consult with the U.N. They’re an important avenue. But they’re not the only avenue,” a senior administration official said, according to the Wall Street Journal.
British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Members of Parliament from summer recess for emergency meetings on Syria while the British military is reportedly preparing for military action. “We are continuing to discuss with our international partners what the right response should be, but, as part of this, we are making contingency plans for the armed forces,” said a spokesperson for Cameron.
Military chiefs from the coalition allied against Syria met in Amman, Jordan on Monday and reportedly reached a “consensus” for a limited campaign of missile strikes on Assad’s forces. “It was decided that should the international community be forced to act in Syria, the most responsible and sustainable response would be limited missile strikes,” said an unnamed Jordanian military official.
The New York Times has some details of the chemical attack last week. “Overwhelmed doctors worked frantically, jabbing their patients with injections of their only antidote, atropine, hoping to beat back the assault on the nervous system waged by suspected chemical agents. In just a few hours, as the patients poured in, the atropine ran out.”
A senior Syrian rebel commander told the Wall Street Journal that “[r]ebel commanders are ready to immediately launch mass assaults against the regime if they believe the world is initiating strikes against Assad. Even limited airstrikes would embolden the rebels.”
NBC News reports that senior U.S. officials said strikes against Syria could be launched “as early as Thursday.” The “three days” of strikes, NBC says, “would be limited in scope, and aimed at sending a message to the regime of Syria President Bashar Assad.”