LATEST: US Officials: Obama “Willing to Act Without Britain”

*British Government Defeated in Parliament Over Proposed Intervention
Assad Moves Scuds To Avoid Strike
*Anti-Attack Faction in Obama Administration Says Chemical Weapons Intelligence “Not a Slam Dunk”

US Officials: Obama “Willing to Act Without Britain”

“Senior Administration officials” — presumably among the supporters of airstrikes — have said that President Obama is willing to move ahead with limited operations even though allies like Britain may not join the effort.

The officials also said that Obama would consider intervention without an endorsement from the United Nations Security Council.

British Government Defeated in Parliament Over Proposed Intervention

A British Government motion for possible humanitarian intervention in Syria has been defeated in Parliament by 13 votes.

After the motion was lost 285-272, Prime Minister David Cameron said it was clear the British Parliament does not want action and “I will act accordingly”.

The Government had already conceded that it would not take military action before a 2nd Parliamentary vote next week, after the United Nations Security Council had considered a report by UN inspectors who examined the sites of chemical warfare attacks near Damascus.

Assad Moves Scuds To Avoid Strike

Reuters are citing “opposition sources” as saying that regime forces have moved several Scud missiles and dozens of launchers out of a base in the foothills of the Qalamoun mountains north of Damascus.

“Diplomats based in the Middle East” told Reuters that the move is likely “part of a precautionary but limited redeployment of armaments in areas of central Syria still held by Assad’s forces”. The diplomats said that insurgent raids and fighting near key roads had blocked a wider evacuation of other security and army bases.

Reuters continues:

At the headquarters of the army’s 155th Brigade, a missile unit whose base sprawls along the western edge of Syria’s main highway running north from the capital to Homs, rebel scouts saw dozens mobile Scud launchers pulling out early on Thursday.

Rebel military sources said spotters saw missiles draped in tarpaulins on the launchers, as well as trailer trucks carrying other rockets and equipment. More than two dozen Scuds – 11-metre (35-foot) long ballistic missiles with ranges of 300 km (200 miles) and more – were fired from the base in the Qalamoun area this year, some of which hit even Aleppo in the far north.

The base was among a list of suggested targets presented by the rebel Syrian National Coalition to Western envoys in Istanbul earlier this week, opposition sources said. Scud units, of Soviet or North Korean manufacture, are designed to be mobile and so could still be set up quickly to fire from new positions.

Video: In Salma, Latakia Province – Large Explosion Follows Airstrike

Footage posted on Thursday evening shows a large explosion following a regime airstrike on the village of Salma in Latakia Province. The regime has waged an offensive against Salma, including frequent airstrikes, since insurgents captured it earlier this month.

Iranian President Rouhani Continues To Stress Need For “Diplomatic Solution” To Syria Crisis

While Iranian military leaders on Thursday continued to talk tough on Syria, threatening that if the U.S. strikes Damascus, Israel will burn, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has continued to emphasize the need for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

The President’s office used Rouhani’s English Twitter account — intended for an international, English-speaking audience — to put out the messages that the UN inspections must be impartial, that the West should not jump to conclusions about the perpetrators of last Wednesday’s attacks, that Iran condemns the use of WMD, and that military action must be based on international law.

British PM: “Doing Nothing is A Choice With Consequences”

In his speech opening the Parliamentary debate on the Government’s motion for action over the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attacks, Prime Minister David Cameron has said operations must be “solely about deterring and degrading the future use of chemical weapons”: “Doing nothing is a choice, it’s a choice with consequence ….The global consensus against the use of chemical weapons will be fatally undermined.”

The leader of the opposition, Ed Miliband, has pushed for any action to support the long-proposed “international peace conference” in Geneva.

Miliband did not rule out support of military action even if there is no United Nation Security Council resoluton, but he cautioned: “I happen to think we’ve got to assess the evidence over the coming period. I do not believe we should be rushed to judgement on this question on a political timetable set elsewhere.”

Snapshot from Damascus: Queues at Black-Market Bakery

Amateur footage, taken on a cellphone, shows long lines at a Damascus bakery near Baramkeh in the city center:

The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen also reports, via Twitter, about bread queues in the Syrian capital:

Video: Claimed Footage of UN Inspectors in Zamalka in East Ghouta Today

British Intelligence: “No Plausible Alternative Scenarios to Regime Responsibility” for Chemical Weapons Attacks

In contrast to the battle within the Obama Administration over analysis of the chemical weapons attacks, the British intelligence community is united, as the Government puts its case to Parliament for action.

In an assessment for tonight’s debate, the Joint Intelligence Committee asserted, “There are no plausible alternative scenarios to regime responsibility.”

The Committee said that there was “no credible intelligence or other evidence” to tie insurgents to the attacks. It assessed there were at least 350 deaths.

The report concludes:

The JIC had high confidence in all of its assessments except in relation to the regime’s precise motivation for carrying out an attack of this scale at this time – though intelligence may increase our confidence in the future.

Meanwhile, the British Government has published a briefing which declares, “If action in the [United Nations] Security Council is blocked, the UK would still be permitted under international law to take exceptional measures in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria by deterring and disrupting the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.”

The Government sets three conditions:

1) “convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief”;

2) “No practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved”; and

3) Force is necessary and proportionate.

The Government promised on Wednesday not to take military action until the Security Council considered the findings of UN inspectors.

Anti-Attack Faction in Obama Administration Says Chemical Weapons Intelligence “Not a Slam Dunk”

The US Office of the Director for National Intelligence has put out a report that the Assad regime is most likely responsible for last week’s chemical weapons attacks; however, a group of US officials — pushing against American airstrikes — have said the assessment is “not a slam dunk” of proof.

The phrase is a deliberate reference to CIA Director George Tenet’s assurance to President George W. Bush in 2002 that U.S. intelligence showing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was a “slam dunk”.

The officials — who appear to be part of the faction within the US Administration arguing against military action — also warned that American airstrikes could trigger another deadly chemical event.

They said that they could not pinpoint the exact locations of Assad’s supplies of chemical weapons, and the regime could have moved them in recent days. Thus, US attacks could accidentally hit newly-hidden supplies of chemical weapons.

The officials also knocked back a report — spread by the pro-attack faction within the Administration — of an intercept of Syrian military officials discussing the strike. They insisted that the conversation was among low-level staff, with no direct evidence tying the attack back to an Assad insider or even a senior Syrian commander.

Videos: Dramatic Footage Of Regime Shells Hitting Jouret Al Shayyah, Homs

Dramatic footage from Thursday showing the moment regime shells hit the Jouret Al Shayyah neighborhood in Homs. The regime has not yet managed to gain control over all of Homs, despite diverting considerable efforts into attempting to do so.

Video: Insurgent Guards Aleppo School With SA-16 Surface To Air Missile Launcher

Footage posted Thursday shows an insurgent guarding a school against air attacks with a SA-16 (Igla-1E) surface to air missile launcher.

Video: Syrian Refugees Protest Outside Closed Turkish Border Crossing

Footage from Thursday shows a Syrian refugees protesting after Turkish authorities close the border crossing.

Assad “Ready to Face Any Attack and Save the Homeland”

According to Al-Akhbar, President Assad has told Syrian officials:

Since the start of the crisis, as you know, we have waited for our true enemy to reveal itself.

I know that your morale is good and that you are ready to face any attack and to save the homeland

It’s a historic confrontation from which we will emerge victorious.

Video: Formation Of New FSA Al Farouq Battalion In Nawa, Dara’a Province

Footage from Thursday shows the announcement of the formation of a new Free Syrian Army battalion, the Farouq Battalion.

Video: Insurgents In Deir Ez Zor Use Homemade Rockets To Target Military Airbase

Footage posted on Thursday shows insurgents from the Assalah Wa Tanmiya Front target the military airbase in Deir Ez Zor:

Picture: Children in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, Making Mud Models of Their Old Homes


(Photo: Andrew Harper/UNHCR)

UN Secretary-General: Inspectors Finish Friday, Leave Syria on Saturday

News on Wednesday claimed Ban had said the inspectors would work until Sunday. However, subsequent reports indicated that the US had rejected an extension of inspections over the weekend.

Russian Navy To Send Additional Vessels To Eastern Mediterranean

Russian news agency Interfax reports that the Russian Navy is to send two additional vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Interfax cites a Russian naval source as saying that the “prevailing situation in the Eastern Mediterranean has required that we make some adjustments to our fleet. In the next few days, it should be extended by the addition of a large anti-submarine vessel from our Northern Fleet. Later, it will be supported by the Black Sea guided missile cruiser Moskva, which is currently completing a task in the North Atlantic and will begin the transatlantic crossing towards the Straits of Gibraltar”.

The source added that the missile cruiser Varyag would replace the Pacific Fleet’s anti-submarine ship Vice-Admiral Panteleev.

Earlier this week, ITAR-TASS reported that the Moskva— the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet —had called at the Venezuelan port of La Guaira for a business visit, accompanied by the Northern Fleet’s large anti-submarine ship “Vice-Admiral Kulakov”. In July, the Moskva took over command of the Russian Navy’s 16 ships in the Mediterranean.

UN Investigators Begin 3rd Day at Sites of Chemical Weapons Attacks

Jeremy Bowen of the BBC:

Activists said the inspectors were en route to Douma and had passed through al-Mleha.

Video: Civilian Casualties As Massive Explosion Rocks Raqqa

Activists in Raqqa reported a massive explosion in the town this morning, resulting in civilian deaths and injuries. This footage shows some of the aftermath.

Videos: Heavy Regime Shelling On Mt. Arbaeen, Ariha, Idlib

Footage from Thursday morning shows smoke rising after a heavy regime shelling on Mt. Arbaeen in Ariha, the town in Idlib Province captured by insurgents. The regime continues an offensive to try to retake the strategic town.

State Media: “All Is Well In Tartous Port”

In one of several stories this morning pushing the line that Syrians are getting on with their normal lives, Syrian State media is reporting that all operating as normal in the port of Tartous.

State outlet SANA quotes the Director General of the Tartous Port Company as saying that “there is no truth to reports of hostile channels that the commercial ships have left the port…the navigation movement at the port proceeds as usual.”

Syrian Deputy FM: West Encouraging Terrorists To Use Chemical Weapons

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Fayssal Mikdad, has accused the West of “encouraging terrorists” to use chemical weapons, warning that this “Western policy means that such weapons will be used soon by the same terrorist groups they have supported against the European peoples”.

Mikdad further claimed that Damascus has given UN inspectors “proof of the use of chemical weapons by the armed terrorist groups in all sites.”


The Local Coordination Committees claim 104 people were killed on Wednesday, including 72 in Aleppo Province — with 55 in a claimed mass killing in Sfera.

The Violations Documentation Center put the number of dead at 71,513 since the conflict began in March 2011, an increase of 48 from Wednesday. Of the dead, 54,012 are civilians, a rise of 31 from yesterday.

Thursday Summary

On a busy Wednesday — including a statement by President Obama and renewed UN inspections of the sites of last week’s chemical attacks — the most significant development was Britain’s retreat from immediate military action, even as the US hinted that this was still possible.

The British Government, facing opposition from Parliament to the airstrikes, inserted a key clause into its motion for Thursday’s debate — it effectively said there would be no military operations before the UN inspectors put forth their findings:

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.

Given that the UN has asked for at least four more days for investigation and analysis — and the Assad regime, sharply reversing its earlier hindrance of the inspections, has suggested an even longer process — the British Government has moved the window for airstrikes to next week.

In his interview with the US Public Broadcasting Service, Obama maintained the line that no decision had been made about force; however, his State Department indicated earlier Wednesday that Washington would act outside the UN inspections and Security Council deliberations.

Spokeswoman Marie Harf said that there was no point in seeking a vote in the Council, even on a British resolution, because of Russian intransigence: “The situation is so serious that it demands a response.”

Harf’s statement was soon followed by signals of a breakdown of talks among the five permanent members of the Council over the British resolution, seeking authorisation for the use of force, with Russia making clear its objections and likely veto.

However, the US appears to have cornered itself with the declaration that any operation would be multi-lateral — thus raising the significance of the British shift — and Obama put on another restraint, at least publicly, with the description of the airstrikes as limited and even symbolic:

If we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term.