Russian president Vladimir Putin says suggestions the Syrian government would use chemical weapons is “utter nonsense”.
The US has laid out a raft of evidence that it says shows Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s forces were behind a chemical weapons attack last week that is said to have killed more than 1,400 people.
US president Barack Obama says his country is still in the planning process for a “limited, narrow” military response that would not involve “boots on the ground” or be open-ended.
However, Mr Putin has restated Russia’s strident support of Assad’s regime, dismissing claims the Syrian government were behind the chemical attacks.
“Syrian government troops are on the offensive and have surrounded the opposition in several regions. In these conditions, to give a trump card to those who are calling for a military intervention is utter nonsense. Commonsense speaks for itself,” Mr Putin said.
“That is why I am convinced that it (the chemical attack) is nothing more than a provocation by those who want to drag other countries into the Syrian conflict, and who want to win the support of powerful members of the international arena, especially the United States.”
In his first public reaction since the US outlined its case for military action, Mr Putin demanded the US produce evidence Assad forces were behind the chemical attack.
“Regarding the position of our American colleagues, friends, who affirm that government troops used weapons of mass destruction, in this case chemical weapons, and say that they have proof, well, let them show it to the United Nations inspectors and the Security Council,” he said.
“It’s outward disrespect toward partners and world actors. If there is evidence, it must be presented. If they don’t show it, that means there is none.
“Talk that these are once again some kind of intercepts of some kind of communications that don’t prove anything cannot be used as a basis for such fundamental decisions like using force against a sovereign state.
A Syrian security official has told AFP news agency the Assad regime is braced for any military action.
“We are expecting an attack at any moment. We are ready to retaliate at any moment,” the Syrian security official, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
The comments come after the team of UN weapons inspectors that were investigating the gas attack in Damascus left Syria and crossed into Lebanon.
The UN inspectors are due to report straight back to United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and detail their conclusions on whether a poison gas attack actually did take place on August 21, based on samples collected on site.
Carr says international response on Syria is warranted
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Bob Carr says the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people warrants a response from the international community, but says he does not think Australia will need to make a contribution to the United States’ response to the crisis.
He says Australian intelligence figures have told him the evidence shows it is highly likely that the regime committed the attack against civilians and says Australia is prepared to support the Obama administration.
But Senator Carr says he does not anticipate Australia would making a military commitment.
“We think that if a government in this day and age uses chemical weapons against innocent men, women and children, it deserves a response. We’re confident the Obama administration has weighed carefully what that response will be,” he said.
“Given what America has said, there will be no boots on the ground, no commitment to a long campaign.
“This isn’t about changing the regime in Syria, it’s not about aligning America with the rebels. It’s going to be a swift and narrow response.
“America’s entitled to receive support from us and the PM has indicated, America will.
“Because America is reinforcing here an international norm, that is a view that a nation that gasses its own people with chemical weapons should receive a robust and appropriate response from the world community.”
Senator Carr echoed the words of US secretary of state John Kerry, who described Mr Assad as a thug and a murderer.
“What leader other than a thug and a murderer can approve that sort of assault on children?” Senator Carr said.
Travellers warned to avoid the region
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today repeated his warning to Australians living or travelling in the Middle East.
“It’s very important for all Australians who are either in the Middle East, in Syria certainly, in adjoining countries and in the wider Middle East, to pay continuing attention to the advice provided in Australian travel advisories,” he said.
“I emphasise again that any Australians currently in Syria, just to get the hell out of there.”
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Australia has traditionally supported its allies, but he has called for cool heads regarding the situation in Syria.
Mr Abbott says it is a difficult and dangerous situation and it is important that any response is carefully considered.
“I absolutely accept that we have a role as then to support decency and oppose abominations such as the chemical weapon attack on innocent civilians,” he said.
“What I said yesterday as well though is that we shouldn’t exaggerate our own importance here.”
Several countries have advised their citizens against travelling to neighbouring Lebanon, as regional tensions grow over a possible military strike on Syria.
A senior security source in Lebanon said 14,000 people had left the country on Thursday alone, mostly Europeans.
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