Damascus: The US and its allies built their case on Wednesday for likely military action against the regime in war-torn Syria over alleged chemical weapons attacks, despite stern warnings from Russia.
The ground for a military intervention was set out by US Vice President Joe Biden, who for the first time said last week`s attack, thought to have killed hundreds, could only have been perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad`s forces.
Britain joined the US in saying regime forces were behind the strikes, and Prime Minister David Cameron said London and its allies had to consider whether targeted military action was required to "deter and degrade the future use of chemical weapons".
But senior officials in Washington told NBC news that possible strikes against targets in Syria could take place as early as Thursday.
As the West inched closer to military intervention, UN inspectors in Damascus resumed their mission to investigate a site of the alleged chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of Damascus.
Moscow, Assad`s most powerful ally, again warned a military solution would destabilise the Middle East, and Syria`s envoy to the UN blamed rebels in the country for launching the attack to provoke international intervention.
The economic cost also started to be counted, as global stocks dived and world oil prices hit a six-month high.
Biden said the United States was certain Assad`s forces were responsible for the deadly gas attacks on August 21.
"There is no doubt who is responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria -- the Syrian regime," Biden said.
"The president believes and I believe that those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women and children should and must be held accountable."
Analysts expect to see cruise missiles launched from US and allied submarines, ships and possibly planes, firing into Syria from outside its waters and airspace.
During a news conference yesterday, however, Syria`s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus would defend itself.
"We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal," he said. "The second choice is the best. We will defend ourselves."
Syria`s ambassador to the UN also hit back at accusations of responsibility for chemical weapons strikes.
"Many facts tend to prove the innocence of the Syrian government, which has been subject to false accusations," ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari told state media.