Syria strike imminent
Warships armed with cruise missiles plow the waters of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. And US officials are all but telling United Nations inspectors in Syria to get out of the way.
A senior US Defence Department official told CNN that any strike could be completed "within several days."
The UN Security Council was set for a showdown over Syria yesterday after Britain sought authorisation for Western military action that Russia called premature.
Meanwhile, UN chemical weapons experts investigating an apparent gas attack in the country made a second trip to the outlying Damascus suburb.
Rebels who control the area said the inspectors had travelled in a six-vehicle convoy to Eastern Ghouta yesterday, reported AFP.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said UN inspectors needed four days in total to conclude a probe into chemical weapons use in Syria.
"My mandate and my responsibility at this time is to conduct a thorough and complete investigation," Ban told reporters in The Hague yesterday.
But US officials aren't placing much stock in the UN mission. US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told the BBC: "US forces are ready, if an order to strike comes down."
Senior US officials told NBC News on Tuesday that the US could hit Syria with three days of missile strikes, perhaps beginning Thursday [today].
US intelligence agencies are preparing a report laying out the evidence against Assad's government in last week's alleged chemical weapons attacks on civilians.
The classified version would be sent to key members of Congress and a declassified version would be released publicly, reported AP.
The White House said it's already convinced, however, and is planning a possible military response while rounding up support from international partners.
Meanwhile, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi said yesterday his country would become a "graveyard of the invaders" if there were a military intervention.
Britain has drafted a UN Security Council resolution "condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad and authorising necessary measures to protect civilians," UK Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted yesterday.
"The resolution will be put forward at the UN in New York later Wednesday [yesterday]," he said.
Cameron also announced that the National Security Council has agreed "unanimously that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was unacceptable -- and the world should not stand by" on Twitter.
The announcement came following his meeting with the military chiefs at Downing Street yesterday, reported The Independent.
Cameron will give the British parliament an opportunity to be seen to support his policy in a debate scheduled for today.
Britain will not take military action against the Syrian regime before United Nations inspectors report back on evidence of chemical weapons attacks, according to a motion published by the government yesterday that is set to be put to a parliamentary vote.
Lawmakers are due to vote on Britain's response to the attacks on today but any military action will require a further vote of parliament's House of Commons after the UN experts report back, according to the motion.
The UN Security Council, of which Britain is a permanent member, should be immediately briefed as soon as the inspections are complete and then "every effort" should be made to secure a resolution from the Security Council backing military action, the motion said.
"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," it stated.
"Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any attack would be folly. One of his deputies responded to Cameron by saying the UN Security Council should wait for the inspectors' report.
China, which also has a permanent seat in the UN, would probably also object to any military measures against Syria.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned of "graver conditions" should strikes be carried out.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle yesterday urged all members of the Security Council, especially Russia, to back the resolution.
Along with Britain, France has also signalled it would join Western military intervention against forces supporting the Syrian president.
French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that France is "ready to punish those who made the decision to gas these innocent people."
The French parliament will hold a session next week to debate the situation in Syria.
The use of chemical weapons in Syria "cannot go unanswered", Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday, adding that the 28-member military alliance will continue to consult on the issue.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation condemned alleged poison gas attacks in Syria, blaming the government and calling for "decisive action" in response.
UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said yesterday "international law is clear" in requiring Council authorisation for any military action.
But Western leaders have made clear they are ready to do without it, citing precedents for foreign intervention to protect civilians.
Syria's war has killed more than 1,00,000 people and driven millions from their homes, many crossing borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.