The UK is to propose a UN Security Council resolution today which would authorise “necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria.
A Downing Street spokesperson said:
We have always made clear that we want the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today we are giving its permanent members the opportunity to do that.
Britain has drafted a resolution condemning the attack by the Assad regime, and authorising all necessary measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter to protect civilians from chemical weapons.
This action comes in the wake of a chemical weapons attack in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus which killed an estimated 1,300 men, women, and children.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon appealed on the Security Council to take action, saying:
The body interested with maintaining international peace and security cannot be ‘missing in action… The council must at last find the unity to act. It must use its authority for peace
Russia and China have previously vetoed any proposed resolutions to intervene in Syria, with Russia, which has strong ties with Syria and supplies the Assad regime with weapons, claiming it would further destabilise the region.
Saudi Arabia, which has long supported the rebels in the civil war with money and weapons, has reportedly offered Russia a secret oil deal which would align the two countries output to fix oil and gas prices in Russia favour if they dropped support for Assad. This news pushed the price of oil to a 5-month high of $112 a barrel.
The Assad regime is known to have stockpiles of a number of chemical weapons including the nerve agent sarin, and Syria is one of only five countries around the world not to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. US president Barack Obama made the use of such weapons a “red line” in the ongoing conflict in Syria, and the videos, images, and medical reports coming out of Ghouta have now forced a discussion of what that red line means.
US politicians have begun to bang the drums of war, with both France and the UK following suit. Security analysts in the US have looked at the videos and reports coming from Ghouta and believe the chemical attack to be genuine, with intercepted panicked phone calls, possibly by Israel, between someone at the Syrian Ministry of Defence and the leader of a chemical weapons unit demanding answers about the attack, underwriting the information.
This intercepted phone call could demonstrate that the attack, or size of the attack, was not done with direct blessing of the Assad regime, with the autonomy of the chemical weapons units unknowns, but it is being interpreted as clarification that the regime at least green lit some use of chemical weapons with the unit mobilised. Others have argued that this panicked call could be explained by the regime knowing nothing of the attack and trying to unearth information about the perpetrator.
A team of UN weapons inspectors is investigating the attack, but Assad’s forces heavily shelled the chemical attack-site in the days after the event, likely contaminating any evidence, and their return to the site yesterday was delayed for “security concerns” with the team shot at by unidentified snipers on Monday.