US Prepares for Possible Airstrikes on Syria

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

An airstrike by the Syrian military on 8/11/12 (Credit: Kareem Khadder/CNN)

(CNN) — A fifth U.S. destroyer is expected to arrive in the eastern Mediterranean later Thursday as the United States prepares for possible airstrikes on Syria over its government’s alleged chemical weapons use, according to a Pentagon official.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said there’s no doubt that Syria launched chemical weapons attacks against its own people. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has blamed the August 21 attack on rebels.

Here are the latest developments:

— British Prime Minister David Cameron opened an emergency session of the House of Commons on Syria Thursday by saying the debate is about “how to respond to one of most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century” — not about regime change or invasion.

— Cameron told the House of Commons on Thursday that the UK government would not act without first hearing from U.N. weapons inspectors, giving the United Nations a chance to weigh in and Parliament to have a vote.

— But ultimately, failing to act would give al-Assad a signal that he could use such weapons “with impunity, Cameron said.

— The British government on Thursday published a summary of its intelligence assessment on Syria’s alleged chemical weapons use, arguing that at least 350 people died in an attack in the Damascus area on August 21, and that there is no plausible culprit other than the Syrian government. It is “highly likely” that the Syrian government was behind the attack, the report said.

— The British government also published its legal reasoning for a strike on Syria Thursday, saying that it would be justified on humanitarian grounds.

— “The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is a serious crime of international concern, as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on use of chemical weapons, and amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity,” the UK government’s statement read. “However, the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons.”

— British members of parliament have received an open letter from the Syrian government Thursday, urging them not to take any military action against Syria, the press office for House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said.

— The Syrian letter to British lawmakers compares the current situation to the march to war against Iraq a decade ago, and riffing on Shakespeare, saying: “If you bomb us, shall we not bleed?” It also says an attack on Syria would be illegal, and “would automatically strengthen our common enemy, al Qaeda and its affiliates.”

— Al-Assad vowed Thursday to defend against any Western military attack. “The threats of launching an aggression against Syria will increase its commitments,” and “Syria will defend itself against any aggression,” he said, according to Syrian state TV.

— A U.N. team that is inspecting the site of the August 21 attack is due to leave Syria by Saturday morning, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday, according to Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky.

— The U.N. inspectors entered the eastern part of the Ghouta region outside Damascus on Thursday, Syrian activists said. The Ghouta area was hit by the August 21 attack, activists say.

Previously reported:

— Al-Assad’s claim that rebels were behind the August 21 chemical attack is impossible, Obama said on “PBS NewsHour” Wednesday. “We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks,” Obama said. “We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.”

— Former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who along with President George W. Bush helped send the U.S. military into action in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Fox Business Network on Wednesday that the White House has yet to justify potential strikes in Syria.

By CNN Staff