As it happened: Syria crisis

Key Points

  • The UN Security Council's five permanent members discussed a UK-proposed resolution authorising "necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria
  • US Vice-President Joe Biden said there was no doubt the Syrian government has used chemical weapons
  • UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Syria conflict had reached its "most serious moment" but inspectors should be given four days to complete their work
  • Russia warned that Western-backed military strikes would destabilise the Middle East
  • Nato and the UK National Security Council both condemned chemical attacks
  • All times in GMT

    Hello, and welcome to our live coverage of the crisis in Syria. Western diplomats are trying to build a coalition to support action against the government of Bashar al-Assad, but Russia and China are unlikely to support any action. Meanwhile, weapons inspectors are visiting another site of alleged chemical attacks. Follow us for updates as they happen, expert analysis and colour from BBC correspondents, and comment from you, our readers, of course.


    The joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, is speaking at a news conference in Geneva.


    Mr Brahimi says international law is clear, that a UN Security Council resolution is required for military action.


    In recent days, Western diplomats and their allies had seemed to hint that they would take action with or without UN backing. Our legal correspondent Clive Coleman wrote a brief explainer of the issues in international law.


    Some tweets from Prime Minister David Cameron about the UK's approach. This is the first of three: "We've always said we want the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that."


    Another tweet from Mr Cameron (2/3): "Britain has drafted a resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad and authorising necessary measures to protect civilians."


    And tweet number three sent from the prime minister's personal account about an hour ago: "The resolution will be put forward at a meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council later today in New York."

    1043: Peter Hart, Limavady, Northern Ireland

    emails: Chemical weapons are wholly unacceptable. But do the politicians ever sit back and think about the people they represent and how they feel about escalating military action? Do they really want to risk WW3? Diplomacy has to be given a fair crack.

    UN weapons inspectors' vehicle

    A convoy of UN weapons inspectors left the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus earlier. On Monday the team abandoned their inspection when they came under fire from unidentified snipers.

    1037: Alex Lawrence

    emails: We must not take any military action or supply arms to the insurgents. They are composed of various factions, some anti-west. Arms could be well used against us. We must try and get them to come to some sort of a diplomatic solution, Russia must be involved as well. But don't let us get involved in any military action!

    Jill Luis, Surrey

    texts: We should keep out of affairs in Syria. It is up to the United Nations to sort it out, not David Cameron. Let us keep out of other countries' problems and not blindly follow America.


    Germany is among the Western states supporting the UK's Security Council resolution. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged everyone, including Russia, to "seize this opportunity and contribute to a common stance by the global community against the use of chemical weapons of mass destruction in Syria".


    One shadow UK minister has said she could resign if military action goes ahead. Labour MP Diane Abbott said public opinion was against the intervention, telling the BBC: "The British public has seen this movie. They know how it ends."

    Alok Kumar Gupta, Bangalore, India

    emails: Military action should be considered after thorough investigation by the UN team. It should be debated within the UN and a vote should be taken before deciding about military action. The guilty should be punished since we must discourage the use of chemical weapons but those who are not responsible should not face military action.


    Mr Westerwelle's support for the UK's resolution (see 10:39) could see him at odds with public opinion. A survey found that 69% of Germans were against military intervention.


    British public opinion also appears to be against intervention, according to a poll carried out for the Sun newspaper.

    David Binder

    tweets: The Syria/Assad chemical attack was terrible, but what would an alternative government be like? What would they do with such weapons?

    James, Widdrington

    emails: The massacre of unarmed civilians is not acceptable. Would we want the world to stand idly by if our government turned on us? I think not. Assad should be removed and if the only way of doing so is through military action, so be it.

    Lakhdar Brahimi The UN envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told a news conference earlier the international community should work towards a political, not military, solution

    Before last week's allegations of chemical weapons strikes, few in the West were publicly contemplating military intervention. Now, it's being reported as "when, not if". Here's our break-down of where the major players in the crisis stand.

    Alan Walton, Preston

    emails: The consequences of this proposed action are far reaching and, without a definitive strategy, the dangers to the whole world are enormous! Possibly the only way to avoid an extremely threatening conflagration that has the potential to engulf the world would be for Obama and Putin to sit down together, for however long it takes, and sort this problem. Russia could solve this problem very quickly by essentially a command to the Syrian regime to stop the use of chemical weapons and avoid a world threatening conflict.

    UN weapons inspectors drive alongside Free Syrian Army vehicle

    The UN weapons inspectors' convoy was escorted by Free Syrian Army fighters as it drove through one of the suspected chemical weapons attack locations.

    Harry, Birmingham

    emails: Whatever you think of UK involvement in the second Iraq War, the government acted then because we thought that the Iraqis had WMD. We knew that the Syrians had WMD, and it is almost certain that they have used chemical weapons against civilians. How can we not support military action in that case?


    For a reminder of how the latest stage of the crisis kicked off, have a look at our Q&A on the alleged chemical attacks in eastern areas of Damascus last week.


    This analysis from the Reuters news agency explains how Syria developed its chemical weapons programme with the help of "chemical brokerage houses" in countries including France and Germany.

    Israelis queuing for gas masks

    Reuters news agency reports that Israelis earlier queued for gas masks in Tel Aviv, spurred by fears of a Syrian retaliatory attack against their country.


    One of the most pressing questions for Western diplomats is what to do about Russia, the Assad regime's main ally. The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow considers whether Western intervention would lead to a direct confrontation with the Russians.


    The UK parliament is expected to vote on Thursday on a government motion backing "appropriate measures" against countries that use chemical weapons. Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander says his Labour Party has not yet decided whether to support the motion, which he says he has not seen. He told the BBC the government carries a "heavy burden of responsibility" to provide its "own evidence" against President Assad.


    An unnamed senior US government official has said America will not act unilaterally in Syria, according to the AFP news agency. Any military intervention "would include international partners", the anonymous source told journalists.

    James, Manchester

    As someone of part-Arab descent, I am completely against military intervention. As our involvement in Libya has shown, the place is no safer now than it was under Gadhafi... The smart move is to stay out of it.

    UN weapons inspectors' convoy and a Free Syrian Army fighter

    UN weapons inspectors are investigating sites of the alleged chemical attacks which killed hundreds of Syrians. Earlier, they visited another suspected site in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka.


    The New York Times is among the news organisations trying to understand why Mr Assad would use chemical weapons. It quotes a military analyst: "What makes military and strategic sense to Assad may not make military and strategic sense to us."


    Former UK government minister Clare Short, who resigned in 2003 over the Iraq war, has told the BBC an attack on Syria would not end the civil war. "Let's take time, let's do it right. Stop rushing," she warned.

    Philip Hammond

    UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond arrived at Downing Street with military advisers earlier for a meeting of the UK's National Security Council.


    In case you missed it, the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus wrote a detailed analysis of the military options available to the West.


    The UK National Security Council is meeting in Downing Street now, before a parliamentary debate on Thursday to allow MPs a vote on the issue. The BBC's Norman Smith says he expects UK politicians to "overwhelmingly back" a motion which is likely to sanction "appropriate measures" against those who use chemical weapons.


    Outspoken MP George Galloway tweets: "Contact your MP. Tell them NOT to support the murderous attack on Syria. This is urgent. Do not delay. E-mail them."


    More on the military strategy pursued by the West. Max Fisher on his blog at the Washington Post seeks to explain why Obama is laying his cards on the table rather than trying to keep the element of surprise.


    Our regular round-up of Chinese media has a Syria focus. It quotes the state-run Global Times as saying: "Forces around the world that oppose external military intervention should unite to prevent as far as possible the US, UK and others from launching air strikes against Syria. If they cannot stop this, they should openly support the Syrian government to engage in resistance."


    US Foreign Policy magazine claims on its blog that the CIA listened in to "panicked phone calls" as a Syrian defence ministry official spoke to the leader of a chemical weapons unit "demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people".


    For those of you who missed UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's news conference earlier, we have put together some excerpts.


    The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner tweets: "Syria crisis presents massive challenge to western intelligence agencies, having got it so spectacularly wrong in Iraq."

    Mark, Stroud

    emails: Just a thought, but say the UN inspectors come back with proof that it is the "rebels" that had the chemical weapons and used them, what military action would we use then?!


    Iraq has put its security forces on high alert ahead of any military strike against Syria, according to the Reuters news agency. "All political and security powers in Baghdad, the provinces and all over Iraq, announce the highest level of alert," Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said.

    A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he and fellow fighters escort a convoy of U.N. vehicles carrying a team of United Nations chemical weapons experts at one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus" suburbs of Zamalka August 28, 2013

    After being shot at on Monday, the UN convoy of weapons inspectors in Damascus has reviewed its security. It is using both fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army and government troops for protection.


    Reuters news agency quotes Syria's deputy foreign minister as saying Britain, France and the US helped "terrorists" use chemical weapons in the conflict.


    The BBC's Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen tweets: "On the road to #Damascus. Stopped for a nourishing chicken shwarma in Chtaura." And later: "Passport office unusually quiet. Not so many entering Syria. But light traffic leaving too on road to Beirut."


    The Times of Israel news website reports that the Assad regime is "abandoning command centres and government security offices - sites that it suspects will be targeted in a possible Western strike". It cites unnamed activists in a report in the Al-Arabiya news organisation.


    A warning from Russia - the Syrian government's key ally on the UN Security Council. "Discussing some sort of reaction by the Security Council before UN inspectors working in Syria publish their report is at the very least untimely," first deputy foreign minister Vladimir Titov told the Interfax news agency.


    A big factor for UK politicians deciding their position on Syria will be the stance they took ahead of the Iraq war, says the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson. "A decade on from Iraq, a British prime minister finds himself under pressure thanks to the desire of an American president for swift military action," he writes.


    Human Rights Watch says in its daily briefing that it takes no position on the intervention, but instead calls for any intervention to observe the law. Executive director Kenneth Roth says: "Military action carried out in the name of upholding a basic humanitarian norm - you don't gas children in their sleep - will be judged by its effect in protecting all Syrian civilians from further unlawful attacks, whether chemical or conventional."

    William Hague

    The UK's National Security Council meeting has concluded. Foreign Secretary William Hague was among the senior political and military figures leaving 10 Downing Street earlier.


    A tweet from Prime Minister David Cameron following the National Security Council meeting: "The NSC agreed unanimously that the use of chemical weapons by Assad was unacceptable - and the world should not stand by."


    Huge diplomatic efforts were made to expand the mission of the UN's team of 20 chemical weapons inspectors in Damascus, writes the BBC's Yolande Knell from Beirut. Now, as Western powers discuss the options for punitive military action in Syria, it looks increasingly likely that the experts' work will be overlooked, she reports. Read more of her analysis in our main news story.

    syrians queuing for bread Normal life goes on for some Syrians at al-Shaalan market in central Damascus

    The Israeli government has authorised a limited call-up of army reservists in reaction to the crisis. An official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office told the BBC that although the likelihood of Israel being drawn into fighting with Syria is very low, Israel must prepare for that scenario.


    Leader of the anti-EU UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, writes for the Daily Express explaining why he opposes "yet another military operation that will risk the lives of British troops and the safety and security of British interests at home and abroad".


    The BBC understands the meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in New York is now underway.


    The Western military alliance Nato has met to discuss the crisis in Syria. A statement from the general secretary said the use of chemical weapons was "unacceptable and cannot go unanswered". The statement added: "We consider the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security."


    Some more detail on that accusation from Syria's deputy foreign minister that the West was behind the chemical attacks. "Armed terrorist groups used sarin gas at all these sites," Faisal Al-Miqdad said. "We repeat that the terrorist groups are the ones who used them with American, British and French encouragement. This encouragement should stop," he added.

    BBC state department correspondent Kim Ghattas

    tweets: If there is a strike, won't b before inspectors out of Syria "@AFP: #BREAKING Ban says UN inspectors 'need four days' to finish in Syria"


    A spokesman for UK Prime Minister David Cameron has issued a statement following the UK's National Security Council meeting. "The NSC agreed unanimously on a recommendation that the Cabinet will consider tomorrow," the spokesman said. He added that there had been "unanimous backing" for the government's approach and that ministers had "agreed" the Assad regime was behind the chemical attacks.

    UN weapons inspectors and Free Syrian Army fighters

    Heavily-armed rebel fighters were alongside the convoy of UN weapons inspectors on their visit to suspected chemical attack sites earlier. The inspectors have now returned to their central Damascus hotel, Reuters reports.

    Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    tweets: Perfect blue sky en route to #Damascus. Perfect weather for satellite surveillance. They're up there somewhere


    "Let [the inspectors] conclude their work for four days," UN chief Ban Ki-moon tells reporters in the Hague. A spokesman said this meant four days in total, which suggests the team needs until at least Friday to complete their inspection.

    UN helmets on a table Helmets belonging to the UN weapons inspectors are seen in this picture from today, with inspectors and rebel fighters in the background

    In an essay published in Cuban state media today, former president Fidel Castro warns of disastrous consequences of any military attack on Syria. He calls the British government "lackeys" for sending planes to Cyprus, and criticises preparations to bomb "the patriotic forces of heroic Syria" whilst allowing thousands to be killed in Egypt after a "crude coup d'etat".


    UK Prime Minister David Cameron tweets this picture from inside the earlier National Security Council meeting:

    politicians and military figures in 10 downing st
    family in israel with gas masks

    And in Israel, orthodox Jews were among those collecting gas masks earlier as talk of military action continued.


    Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi accuses the West of fabricating reasons to attack. "Western countries, starting with the United States, are inventing fake scenarios and fictitious alibis to intervene militarily in Syria," he was quoted as saying by state television.


    If you're struggling to keep up with where each country stands on the Syrian crisis, the Guardian have published an interactive map explaining just that.

    Un weapons inspectors vehicle entering hotel

    UN weapons inspectors returned to their hotel earlier after visiting one of the alleged chemical weapons targets under the protection of rebel fighters.


    Following on from the Syrian PM's accusations (see 14:25), late on Tuesday Syrian state media put out a full statement by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem denying that the government had used chemical weapons.


    Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond says "the case for military action" has "not yet been made".


    The BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera tweets: "No plans for a UK document on Syrian CW intel at moment despite speculation. Memories of Iraq dossier loom large in Whitehall it seems."


    UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has just spoken to journalists. He rejected comparisons between the situation in Iraq before the allied invasion, and the current situation in Syria, where he says "a crime against humanity has been committed".

    Bloomberg News

    tweets: Oil reaches two-year high amid speculation of American-led military strike against Syria


    More quotes from William Hague (see 15:10). He called on the UN Security Council to "shoulder its responsibilities" on Syria, adding that the international community would still have a responsibility to act, even if no resolution is agreed at the UN.

    Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    tweets: Damascus seems quieter than on recent trips. The city is awaiting decisions made elsewhere. War about to move into a new phase

    Protests outside the peace palace in The Hague

    The BBC's Anna Holligan tweets this picture from outside the Peace Palace in The Hague, where a small group of protesters are registering their anger at the use of chemical weapons, as well as other issues.


    Following the examples of Iraq (see 12:49) and Israel (see 13:33), Turkey has now also reportedly put its armed forces on alert. Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said "all options" remained open and that Turkey will take "whatever measures necessary within the framework of its own strategic interests".


    While diplomats in New York mull action against the Assad government, the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus asks how far could Damascus defend itself against the sort of attack that is being planned.

    Syrian refugees, who fled the violence in Syria, walk at a new refugee camp in the outskirts of the city of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdistan region on 26 August 2013

    Almost two million Syrians have fled the country since the conflict began in March 2011. Refugees often end up in camps like this one in Iraq's Kurdistan region. To get an idea of the sheer scale and size of a Syrian refugee camp, you can take a tour of Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp and explore our in-depth graphic.


    There's been no word yet from the UN in New York. We believe the five permanent Security Council members are still talking. No formal vote or wider meeting is scheduled for today.


    People in Damascus have been stocking up on bread, dried goods and canned foods fearing food shortages in the event of military strikes, Reuters reports. "We live in the capital. Every turn, every street, every neighbourhood has some government target. Where do we hide?" a nurse sitting in an empty clinic told the agency. "People have been in the habit of stocking extra food since the conflict began, but now people are buying huge amounts of food and water," says a resident named as Rula.


    The BBC's Quentin Sommerville tweets: "Syrian opposition here in Lebanon claims that Assad regime is commandeering trucks to move people and resources in advance of any attack."


    The BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Damascus: "Anyone who lives in Damascus will be a little bit nervous. There have been reports that people have moved out. You do get a sense that the people here are waiting for decisions that are being taken a long way from here."


    The BBC's Richard Galpin tweets: "Whatever reassurances #Israel govt gives its citizens, next few days here will be nerve-wracking for population if Syria is attacked."


    Our Middle East editor continues (see 16:18), saying that there will be pressure on the countries that want military action to allow UN inspectors to come forward with their own conclusions first: "They have to win a political battle and show that they did all they could. If they don't, it will be messy and create further complications down the line."

    Ghanem Nuseibeh, senior visiting fellow at King's College, London

    tweets: Syria crisis show again that when push comes to shove in the Middle East, the eyes of the world turn to London.

    Assaf Aboud BBC Arabic reporter

    says Syrian government departments are continuing their work as usual, the shops continue to receive customers and the streets of the Syrian capital remain choked by traffic. Read more of his analysis in our main news story.


    Syria's UN envoy Bashar Jaafari has reportedly asked UN chief Ban Ki-moon to order the team of inspectors in Damascus to investigate three alleged rebel gas attacks on the Syrian army. He described the attacks as "three heinous incidents" that took place in the countryside of Damascus on the 22, 24 and 25 of August.


    The BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Beale has put together a video explainer of the likely response by Syria to any military intervention.

    Israeli soldiers take part in a drill in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on 18 August 2013.

    Israeli troops are taking part in a drill in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, as the authorities call up reserve troops ahead of possible military intervention. Israel has allegedly already carried out three air strikes on targets in Syria this year.


    What might military action in Syria look like? How would foreign intervention be legal? How might President Assad respond? How did the alleged chemical weapons attack in eastern Damascus unfold on 21 August? For explainers, backgrounders, analysis and more, you can visit our special report on the Syria conflict.


    To recap on the day's events, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council met to discuss a proposal from the UK authorising "all necessary measures to protect civilians" in Syria. Envoys have not released a copy of the draft resolution or briefed journalists, and more discussions are expected over the coming days.


    We're wrapping up our live coverage of the Syria crisis for today. Our news front page will continue to be updated with all the latest developments.


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