The European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee says it seeks proof for the accusation that the Syrian government was behind a chemical attack near Damascus.
The accusation was leveled by a number of Western and Arab countries after the militants operating inside Syria and the foreign-backed Syrian opposition claimed on August 21 that hundreds had been killed in a government chemical attack on militant strongholds in the Damascus suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar. A number of Western countries, including the US, France, and the UK, were quick to adopt the rhetoric of war against Syria despite the fact that Damascus categorically rejected the claim. On Wednesday, the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee held a meeting on the issue behind closed doors. Speaking at a news conference after the meeting, Elmar Brok, the chairman of the committee, called on the US government, specifically Secretary of State John Kerry, to provide proof of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. “Even if the military strike comes, we believe a political solution still is needed,” Brok said. Since early Tuesday, speculations became stronger about the possibility of a military attack on Syria. Media outlets reported US plans for likely surgical attacks, which would be in the form of “cruise-missile strikes,” and “could rely on four US destroyers in the Mediterranean [Sea].” The plan was said to be awaiting US President Barack Obama’s go-ahead. On Wednesday however, the British government, the United States’ closest ally, announced that its support for military intervention in Syria would require a second vote in the country’s parliament. The British legislature is due to vote on a first motion on Thursday. The UK government said the second vote would come after the UN chemical weapons investigation team releases the results of its probe on the sites where chemical agents have been used inside Syria. The delay by the UK came after the coalition government of British Prime Minister David Cameron faced resistance from members of the opposition and his own coalition, who seemed to have paused, mindful of the insistence by the US and the UK governments in the run-up to the Iraq war that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction, which ultimately proved false. Although the UK delay seems to have slowed down the momentum for war, it by no means has eradicated the possibility of unilateral action by the US. Washington has said it is willing to go ahead with its plans for a strike on Syria even without the approval of the United Nations or the support of its allies. This comes despite warnings from the UN, as well as Iran, Russia, and China against war. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Wednesday for a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria. Also on Wednesday, UN-Arab League Special Envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said any foreign military action in Syria needs to be approved by the UN Security Council (UNSC).