UN chemical weapons team leaves Syria paving way for attack
U.S. president says chemical weapons use in Syria threatens Israel, Jordan, and Turkey; Kerry says Syria chemical attack killed 1,429, including 426 children; France backs U.S. on Syria after U.K. Parliament votes against military action; UN investigators to leave Syria on Saturday.
Preparations for an American-led military strike on Syria in response to President Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons continued on Friday. In Syria, a UN investigation team continued to look into the sites of suspected use of chemical weapons. The British Parliament ruled out U.K. participation in any military scenarion in a vote overnight, and U.S. President Obama continues to weigh his options. In Israel, additional Iron Dome rocket defense battieries were deployed in various locations throughout the country, including Gush Dan, the greater Tel Aviv area.
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8:02 A.M. UN chemical weapons inspectors arrive in Lebanon, say witness (Reuters)
6:20 A.M. The team of UN chemical weapons inspectors left their Damascus hotel early on Saturday, a Reuters witness said, and appeared to be leaving the country. The witness saw the team's convoy of vehicles head onto a highway that leads to neighboring Lebanon.
5:55 A.M. A sixth U.S. warship is now operating in the eastern Mediterranean, near five U.S. destroyers armed with cruise missiles that could soon be directed against Syria as part of a "limited, precise" strike, U.S. defense officials said late on Friday "It's been kept there as a precaution," said one of the officials, who was not authorized to speak publicly.
1:35 A.M. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon briefed the permanent Security Council members on the work of the chemical weapons inspection team in Syria. There is no timeline for when the analysis of evidence will be done, but it may take weeks, he said.
12:20 A:M. Syria said on Friday that accusations by the United States that it has used chemical weapons were "lies and baseless." The Syrian foreign ministry said in a statement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's charges were a "desperate attempt" to justify a military strike against Syria. (Reuters)
11:25 P.M. U.S. President Barack Obama discussed Syria in phone calls with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande on Friday, a senior administration official said. (Reuters)
10:39 P.M. Turkey's Erdogan says any intervention against Syria should be aimed at bringing an end to Assad's rule. (Reuters)
10:21 P.M. Most Americans still do not want to intervene in Syria's civil war, although support for such action has increased since the suspected chemical gas
attack near Damascus last week, according to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll.
9:51 P.M. Obama says he has strong preference for multilateral action. But says that the U.S. doesn't "want the world to be paralyzed." Obama also says "there is an incapacity for the [UN] Security Council to move forward." (AP)
9:45 P.M. Obama says part of U.S. obligation as leader in the world is to make sure that when a government uses prohibited weapons that they are held to account. (Reuters)
9:34 P.M. Obama says has not made final decision on response to Syria chemical weapons use, is looking at limited action, not open-ended commitment. Also says chemical weapons use in Syria threatens U.S. national security interests. (Reuters)
9:31 P.M. Obama says chemical weapons attack is a challenge to the world, threatens U.S. allies such as Israel and Jordan. (Reuters)
9:14 P.M. CNN reports that Obama expected to make remarks about Syria at 2:15 P.M. EDT on Friday.
9:06 P.M. A team of UN investigators has finished gathering samples and evidence related to a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people in suburbs near Damascus last week and is packing up to leave, a UN spokesman said on Friday. The team will be leaving Syria on Saturday but will return later to investigate several other alleged poison gas attacks.
9:04 P.M. The U.S. is considering a military response that would be limited and "tailored" in response to the Syrian chemical attack, a senior administration official said on Friday. The United States is not contemplating taking any action for "regime change," the official told reporters. (Reuters)
8:27 P.M. A U.S. intelligence report disclosed on Friday that there was "high confidence" that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons multiple times in the last year, including the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus. (Reuters)
8:10 P.M. Kerry stressed that anything the United States might do would be carefully tailored and would not in any way resemble the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, nor its intervention to help topple former Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi.
"It will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open-ended. And it will not assume responsibility for a civil war that is already well underway," Kerry said of any action U.S. President Barack Obama might pursue.
8:05 P.M. Kerry said that three days before chemical attack, Syrian regime members were preparing for weapons use. "We know Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks. We know these were specific instructions," Kerry said.
8:01 P.M. Kerry says intelligence on Syria gas attack is clear and compelling. "The U.S. government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack - including 426 children," Kerry said.
6:32 P.M. Hundreds of Jordanians rallied in Amman in protest of a proposed Western-backed military strikes against Syria, urging the Jordanian government to reject U.S. "aggression" in the region. (DPA)
5:10 P.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to make a statement at 12:30 P.M. EDT (7:30 P.M. Israel time) on Friday about Syria, a U.S. government source said. (Reuters)
4:58 P.M. Turkish FM Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday intelligence gathered by Ankara left no doubt that the forces of Syria's Assad were responsible for last week's chemical attack. "From our point of view, totally based on our national intelligence and assessments by our national experts ... there is no doubt that the regime is responsible," Davutoglu told reporters. (Reuters)
4:43 P.M. The White House plans on Friday to release an unclassified version of an intelligence assessment of the chemical weapons attack last week in Syria, a U.S. official said. There were no immediate details on the time of the release of the report. (Reuters)
4:29 P.M. A BBC crew in Syria has filmed the aftermath of an "incendiary bomb dropped on to a school playground in the north of the country - which has left scores of children with napalm-like burns over their bodies." According to the BBC, eyewitnesses report seeing "a fighter jet dropping the device, a low explosion, followed by columns of fire and smoke." It is not clear when the incident occurred, although the report surfaced on Thursday. The BBC said ten people were killed, many wounded in the attack. (Haaretz)
4:00 P.M. Almost 80 percent of Americans think Obama needs the approval of Congress before taking military action in Syria, according to a new NBC News poll. Meanwhile, some fifty percent of Americans think the U.S. "should not intervene in the wake of suspected chemical weapons attacks by Syrian President Bashar Assad," NBC said. Some 50 percent are in favor of military action if it is limited to "launching cruise missiles from U.S. naval ships," and 44 percent oppose it (Haaretz)
3:10 P.M. Fierce fighting has taken place in a town near Damascus that UN inspectors visited earlier, opposition members said. "Violent fighting is pitting regular armed forces against rebels on the northern and western fronts of Moadamiyet al-Sham," the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Moadamiyet al-Sham is one of the places allegedly hit by chemical attacks on August 21, and the inspectors visited it Monday. According to a Damascus-based anti-Assad activist, Ibrahim Shaiban, these two rebel strongholds have been "intensely" bombed since Thursday. Meanwhile, senior security official in Damascus said the army was "in permanent confrontation with terrorist groups who are in Moadamiyet, and have been for a long time." (AFP)
2:46 P.M. Russian President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy advisor says Russia has not seen the U.S. intelligence that Washington claims proves the role of the Syrian government in last week's alleged chemical weapons attack. Putin's aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Friday he cannot comment on the intelligence because the U.S. has not shared it with Russia. (AP)
2:13 P.M. Commentators say U.K. no vote on Syria military action was the first time a British prime minister had lost a vote on war since 1782, when parliament effectively conceded American independence by voting against further fighting to crush the colony's rebellion. (Reuters)
2:00 P.M. China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Friday in a phone call with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius that determining the facts should be a precondition for taking any action in Syria. He said that it was important to determine not only if chemical weapons were used but who used them. (Reuters)
1:36 P.M. British parliament's refusal to authorize a potential strike on Syria showed a growing understanding of the risks of military intervention in the conflict, Putin's senior foreign policy advisor said on Friday.
"People are beginning to understand how dangerous such scenarios are," Yuri Ushakov told reporters. He said he believed the vote on Thursday reflected the majority opinion in Europe as a whole, not just Britain. (Reuters)
1:14 P.M. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Friday that "we haven't considered any German military participation and still aren't doing so." His comments follow an interview Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle gave to the daily Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung in which he said Germany hadn't been asked to contribute to military action against Assad. (AP)
12:30 P.M. A team of United Nations inspectors departed in three cars to a hospital in a government-held area of central Damascus to visit doctors on Friday, according to a witness. (Reuters)
12:01 P.M. French President Francois Hollande said a British parliamentary vote against taking military action in Syria would not affect France's will to act to punish Bashar Assad's government for an apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians.
Hollande told the daily Le Monde in an interview that he supported taking "firm" punitive action over an attack he said had caused "irreparable" harm to the Syrian people and said he would work closely with France's allies.
Asked if France could take action without Britain, Hollande replied: "Yes. Each country is sovereign to participate or not in an operation. That is valid for Britain as it is for France." (AP)
11:54 A.M. UN experts have delayed the start of what's expected to be the last day of their probe into last week's suspected chemical weapons attack near the Syrian capital that reportedly killed more than 300 people. A convoy of UN vehicles left the inspectors' hotel in central Damascus early Friday, but returned minutes later. It was not clear why the team turned back, and the UN could not be reached for comment. The UN said Thursday the inspectors would wrap up their investigation Friday into the August 21 attack, and leave Syria the following day. Some of the experts will travel to laboratories in Europe to deliver the material they've collected this week. (AP)
11:30 A.M. Treasury chief George Osborne is warning that Britain should not turn its back on the world after a stunning parliamentary defeat over a government motion for military intervention in Syria. He told BBC on Friday that he understands that many lawmakers and British citizens do not want U.K. military involvement in Syria, where the government is suspected of using chemical weapons against civilians. He said there will be "national soul-searching" about Britain's global role after the 'no' vote. (AP)
8:35 A.M. The Israel army set up an Iron Dome anti-rocket battery in central Israel late on Thursday, as part of its preparations for a possible American-led strike in Syria. The battery in the Gush Dan, the greater Tel Aviv area, joins two additional Iron Dome systems recently deployed in northern Israel, near Haifa and in the Galilee. The Israel Defense Forces was reportedly also considering deploying another battery in northern Israel.
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