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West warns Syria of imminent strike

The Arab League has joined the West in blaming the Syrian regime for the chemical attack.

A young child with her mother in the streets of Darkoush, Syria. Picture: Rahima Essop/EWN.

TEL AVIV/AMMAN - American Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday warned that the US military is ready to act immediately should President Barack Obama order action against Syria.

Obama has ordered his national security team to prepare a declassified report detailing justifications for a military strike on the Middle East nation which has been torn apart by a two-year civil war.

The US and its allies are now drafting plans for air strikes and other military action against Damascus and Syrian opposition leaders have been told to expect military strikes against al-Assad within days.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says his government is considering what it calls a "proportionate" response to deter Assad from using chemical weapons in the future.

Meanwhile, the Arab League has announced it holds Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "fully responsible" for the alleged chemical attack near Damascus last week.

The Syrian regime is alleged to have used chemical weapons on a civilian population on Wednesday but has denied responsibility.

Aid agencies say at least 355 people were killed and more than 3 000 injured.

"The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva," a source who was at the meeting between envoys and the rebel Syrian National Coalition (SNC) on Monday told Reuters.

The meeting at a hotel in downtown Istanbul was between senior figures of the SNC, including its president Ahmad Jarba, and envoys from 11 core "Friends of Syria" alliance members.

Envoys included Robert Ford, the top US official handling the Syria file, sources said.

Facing Russian and Chinese disapproval that could dampen prospects for proposed peace talks in Geneva, al-Assad's foes have vowed to punish him.

United Nations chemical weapons investigators, who finally crossed the frontline to take samples on Monday despite being shot at in government-held territory, put off a second trip to rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.