SA condemns Syria intervention

The Department of International Relations has called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Syria.

A group of rebels on a tank in Darkoush, Syria. Picture: Rahima Essop/EWN

JOHANNESBURG/BEIRUT - While the Middle-East is bracing for war and world leaders consider military options in Syria, South Africa is warning any strike on Syria will only lead to further civilian suffering.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition is urging western powers to launch a punitive strike against President Bashar al-Assad's government in retaliation to and as a warning against a repeat of last week's alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians.

International Relations and Cooperation spokesman Clayson Monyela says western military intervention in Syria will ultimately worsen the conflict engulfing the country.

"That would be our call; that we should support the people of Syria to begin an inclusive national dialogue."

Many nations have called for such a dialogue throughout the two years of conflict in Syria but progress was never made.

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY DIVIDED

Russia and China, meanwhile, are promising to veto any United Nations (UN) agreement to launch a strike, saying diplomatic attempts at creating peace need to be extended.

Russia has moved two of its warships into the Mediterranean where the US and Britain are at the ready to launch strikes on Damascus.

Moscow says the US would be jumping the gun by declaring war on al-Assad and has warned them not to take any action.

Germany has agreed with the Russian argument that the crisis needs to be solved politically rather than militarily.

BRITAIN DEBATES ACTION

Britain's government on Thursday published internal legal advice showing it's legally entitled to take military action against Syria, even if the UN Security Council blocks intervention.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is convinced al-Assads government deliberately used chemical weapons on his own people, which would qualify as a war crime, and says the rebels cannot have been responsible in any way.

He told his country's parliament on Thursday afternoon during a debate on the crisis that intervening in Syria's affairs is necessary as the war-ravaged nation is facing a humanitarian catastrophe.

"If there are no consequences for it, there is nothing to stop Assad and other dictators from using these weapons again and again. As I've said, doing nothing is a choice - it's a choice with consequences."

He said chemical weapons have been banned and doing nothing to punish their use would make the ban pointless.

"A hundred-year taboo will be breached and that is why I believe we shouldn't stand idly by."

But the leader of the opposition party Labour, Edward Miliband, has called for further investigations before making any decisions.

He condemned the attack but says more concrete evidence that the Syrian government was responsible for attack is needed, saying Cameron had not yet convinced him.

Further, Jack Straw, the acting Shadow Deputy Prime Minister of the UK and former foreign secretary under Tony Blair at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, noted the importance of ensuring the validity of intelligence before making a decision.

"We all know how easy it is to get into military action and how difficult it is to get out of it," he said, adding his own experience with Iraq had scarred him.

Noting Cameron's concession that initial action might only function as a punishment and possible deterrence, he asked rather than being so massive as to disable al-Assad's military abilities, whether the prime minister could be sure that a single strike would be enough or if a full invasion would eventually result.

SYRIAN CIVILIANS FLOOD LEBANON

Meanwhile, Syrians have fled to neighbouring Lebanon in large numbers ahead of the potential strikes on their country.

There are rumours among them that a US strike might occur within hours or early Friday morning.

But some have told Eyewitness News they believe US President Barack Obama will wait until UN inspectors finish their work and leave the area.

The team have been sampling tissues and gathering witnesses' reports of the chemical attack.