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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem speaks during a press conference beneath a portrait of President Bashar Assad in Damascus today. Uncredited/AP/Press Association Images

Round-up: What has happened in Syria today?

David Cameron has recalled the British parliament, France says it is ready to ‘punish’ those responsible for the alleged chemical attack and Syria insists it will defend itself.

Updated 22:56

IT HAS BEEN more than two years since the conflict in Syria kicked off but the past 24 hours have seen the situation change dramatically.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled parliament early to discuss the crisis, France has used strong language against Bashar Assad and his regime and the US has claimed it is ready to intervene with force.

Meanwhile, Syria insists it will defend itself against any attacks by international powers, claiming the Assad administration was not responsible for the alleged chemical attack in a suburb of Damascus last week.

Images of the aftermath of that incident shocked the world as countless children were seen lying lifeless in body bags, while others wriggled in pain from the toxic substance. The death toll from the incident sits somewhere between 355 and 1,300 but independent verification is near-impossible as foreign journalists and UN inspectors have not been given access to the area.

The violence act has rallied international powers to action – and more forceful speech – on Syria. With everything happening so quickly, takes a look back at what has happened today:

Chemical Inspection?

The United Nations inspectors, who were yesterday shot at while heading towards the site of the suspected chemical attack, had to postpone their efforts to collect more evidence as their safety could not be ensured.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has urged all sides to give safe passage and access to the team.

What the US said?

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told the world that the US is ready to act once President Barack Obama gives the green light.

“We are prepared. We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” he said while discussing Syria. “We are ready to go, like that.”

The Washington Post, citing a senior US administration officer, believes the intervention would last no more than two days and involve missiles or long-range bombers.

The White House has also revealed it is to release intelligence on the gas attack later this week, stating it has “no doubt” about who was responsible.

What Syria said?

Assad’s regime said it would defend itself against any external attack, adding that Syria had capabilities that would “surprise” the world. Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned that outside intervention would not be in the best interests of Israel and Al-Qaeda.

And the Opposition – the Syrian National Coalition – believes military action from the West will happen within days. One official told reporters that the group, as well as the rebel Free Syrian Army, had been consulted with over possible targets, including airports, military bases and non-chemical arms depots.

What Russia said?

Russia, a close ally of Assad’s, warned that any use of force would have “catastrophic consequences” for the entire region. Moscow has also questioned the widespread belief that Assad was responsible for the chemical attack.

What the Arab League said?

The 22-member group was more decisive than others, stating that the Assad regime bore the “entire responsibility” for the 21 August horror.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said “the situation calls for a firm and serious attitude to put an end to the human tragedy of the Syrian people.”

What Britain said?

Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled parliament early for a session on Thursday to discuss the crisis and debate any possible action. Its armed forces are also drawing up contingency plans for action.

He said any action will have to be legal and it would not be about “getting involved in a Middle East war” but rather about the use of chemical weapons, adding that “the world shouldn’t stand idly by” as they are deployed.

Deputy PM Nick Clegg has said, however, that Britain is not seeking to topple Assad.

“What we’re considering is a serious response… What we’re not considering is regime change, trying to topple the Assad regime.”

What France said?

President Francois Hollande – who has not shied away from foreign interventions previously with quick action on Mali – said France is “ready to punish” those responsible for last week’s chemical attack.

“France is ready to punish those who took the vile decision to gas innocent people,” he said in a televised speech. “Our responsibility today is to look for the most appropriate response to the exactions of the regime,” he added, pointing the finger at the Assad regime.

This civil war today threatens world peace.

France plans to increase military support to the main Opposition body in Syria – the Syrian National Coalition.

What Israel said?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed a serious retaliation if his country were attacked.

“The State of Israel is prepared for every scenario,” he said following consultations on the crisis. “We are not part of the civil war in Syria, but if we detect any attempt to hurt us, we will react, and react fiercely.”

What the Vatican said?

The Vatican is against any military intervention in Syria, citing the bloodshed and violence in Iraq following the US-led war against Saddam Hussein in 2003 as reason not to take action.

The city’s daily newspaper said the United Nations was caught in a crossfire and that the tone of the debate is becoming “ever more drastic”.

What next?

As Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it can veto any proposed mandate for intervention.

Therefore, other countries – probably led by the US – could band together in a ‘coalition of the willing’ to carry out an operation not aimed at overthrowing the government but ensuring no further chemical attacks take place.

Knock-on Effects

European stocks fell sharply as investors looked at the impact a military intervention could have on markets. As is usually the case in an unpredictable storm, gold rallied, becoming a popular safe-haven for money.

“The outlook of a military action in relation to the use of chemical weapons is clearly dampening risk appetite,” said Gekko Markets’ trader Anita Paluch.

Oil prices also soared with Brent crude striking six-month highs amid concerns of military action.

“Escalating fears about the possibility of Western military action in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria is boosting the appetite for the black gold,” noted Fawad Razaqzada, an analyst at traders GFT Markets.

Additional reporting by AFP

Originally published 18.13

Explainer: What is going on in Syria?

Earlier: Syria weapons inspection delayed over safety fears

Read: Irish soldiers ‘trained, ready, focussed and looking forward’ to Syria mission

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