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Strike on Syria appears inevitable

It is widely believed the strike against Syria could result in retaliatory consequences.

An image by Syria's opposition the bodies of children and adults laying on the ground after being killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces. Picture: AFP

PRETORIA/WASHINGTON - Mounting tension ahead of what appears to be an inevitable punitive strike against Syria is being compared to the Cuban missile crisis that put the world on the brink of war 51 years ago.

The US is bent on a tough response to what it is convinced that last week's nerve gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus was launched by President Bashar al Assad's regime.

The military response to this crossing of the red lines is coming from Washington, London and Paris.

US President Barack Obama made the case on Wednesday for a limited military strike against Syria in response to the attack as he faced new obstacles with British allies and US lawmakers that could delay any imminent action.

While saying he had not yet made a decision, Obama left little doubt that the choice was not whether to act but when to retaliate.

Britain, a key player in any air assault on Syria, changed its stance on Wednesday, saying the UN Security Council should first see findings from international weapons inspectors and the UK parliament would hold two votes before any military action is taken.

Arguing for measured intervention after long resisting deeper involvement in Syria, Obama insisted that while Assad's government must be punished, he intended to avoid repeating Washington's errors from the Iraq war.

"I have no interest in any open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable."

The likeliest option, according to US officials, would be to launch cruise missiles from US ships in the Mediterranean in a campaign that would last days.

Meanwhile, Russia will send two ships to the east Mediterranean to strengthen its naval presence because of the "well-known situation" there, Interfax news agency said on Thursday.

The agency quoted a source in the armed forces' general staff as saying an anti-submarine vessel and a missile cruiser would be sent in the coming days because the situation "required us to make some adjustments" in the naval force.

The Defence Ministry was not immediately available for comment.

SYRIAN RETALIATION

A US-led cruise missile attack could provoke retaliations from Damascus and its backers, ranging from missile strikes to terrorist attacks and cyberwar, according to government officials and private analysts.

According to defence officials, US military commanders are preparing contingency plans for a potential counter-strike by Syria's military.

The officials expressed confidence that the United States its regional allies such as Israel could deter or neutralise an immediate response from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.'

Syria and its close regional ally, Iran, both are widely believed to have ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and other US allies nearby, such as Turkey and Jordan.

Hezbollah, the Shi'ite militia backed by Tehran and fighting on Assad's side in Syria, has tens of thousands of short-range rockets in southern Lebanon, near Israel's border.

TUTU WANTS HUMAN INTERVENTION

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has added his voice to warnings that a military strike by the west could lead to an escalation of tensions.

Tutu has called for world powers to talk further about the crisis saying it requires human not military intervention.

Tutu says the crisis in Syria offers an opportunity for world powers to talk about difficult topics such as relationships between the west and the Islamic world and Israel and Palestine.

He says the risk of intervention is simply not worth it and further bloodshed must be avoided.

Tutu says what's important is to lay a foundation of peace in the region and to create better understanding.

Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi has condemned the use of chemical weapons.

He said he does have one major concern about the threat of a strike. "If this is going to be a surgical strike that will not take more than one or two days, maybe we can reduce these other effects which could follow."

A team of UN experts left their Damascus hotel for a third day of on-site investigations into the apparent chemical weapons attacks on the outskirts of the capital.

Activists and doctors in rebel-held areas said the six-car UN convoy was scheduled to visit the scene of strikes in the eastern Ghouta suburbs.

Syria's civil war has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011 and driven millions from their homes, many crossing borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

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