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US, UK back down from immediate strike, Assad vows 'victory'

Last updated on: August 29, 2013 17:40 IST

The United States and the United Kingdom on Thursday appeared to have backed down from an immediate punitive military strike against Syria, even as embattled President Bashar al-Assad vowed that his country would emerge "victorious" in any confrontation with America and its allies.

A strike by Western forces had appeared imminent but US allies were increasingly reluctant to act before hearing the results of a UN probe into the alleged poisonous gas attacks in the war-torn country on August 21.

President Barack Obama has said he had not yet decided whether to attack Syria in response to alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, but a strike still appeared likely as the US stopped seeking a United Nations mandate.

"We have not yet made a decision, but the international norm against the use of chemical weapons needs to be kept in place. Hardly anybody disputes that chemical weapons were used on a large scale in Syria against civilian populations," Obama told the PBS News Hour in an interview.

British Prime Minister David Cameron backed down and agreed to delay a military attack on Syria following a growing revolt over the UK's rushed response to the crisis.

The prime minister has now said he will wait for a report by UN weapons inspectors before seeking the approval of members of parliament for "direct British involvement" in the Syrian intervention.

Downing Street said the decision to wait for the UN was based on the "deep concerns" the country still harbours over the Iraq War.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday pleaded for more time for diplomacy and to allow UN investigators to complete their probe on suspected chemical weapons attacks. He said the investigators will leave Syria by Saturday morning.

"Diplomacy should be given a chance...peace (should) be given a chance," Ban said in Vienna. "The use of chemical weapons by anyone, for any reason, under any circumstances, is a crime against humanity and that must be held accountable for," he said.

Meanwhile, President Assad remained defiant amid heightened tensions, saying "Since the start of the crisis, as you know, we have waited for our true enemy to reveal itself." "I know that your morale is good and that you are ready to face any attack and to save the homeland," Al-Akhbar newspaper quoted Assad as telling Syrian officials.

"It's a historic confrontation from which we will emerge victorious," the paper quoted him as saying. Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi on Wednesday had accused Western countries of "inventing" excuses to take military action against his country.

"Western countries, starting with the US, are inventing fake scenarios and fictitious alibis to intervene militarily in Syria," he was quoted as saying by state television.

Halqi said his country would become a "graveyard of the invaders" if there were a military intervention. "Syria... will surprise the aggressors as it surprised them during" the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Arab forces carried out a sneak attack on Israel.

Russia and Iran, key allies of Syria, again reiterated their warning against any Western intervention in the civil war. They said that such a strike could set off a wider regional conflict.

With a Western intervention imminent there were signs of growing fears across the wider region. At least 6,000 Syrians crossed into Lebanon in a 24-hour period, including an estimated 4,000 on Wednesday, according to Lebanese security officials.

Israel has already authorised a partial call-up of arm reservists while Turkey has put its forces on heightened "vigilance".

Britain has dispatched six Royal Air Force Typhoon jets to its base in Cyprus as part of a "contingency" plan to ensure the protection of interests amid heightened tensions over Syria, the ministry of defence said on Wednesday.

The MoD said the jets are being dispatched to Akrotiri in Cyprus as a "prudent and precautionary measure", adding that they are not being deployed to take part in a military strike against Syria.

"We can confirm that as part of ongoing contingency planning, six RAF Typhoon interceptor fast jets are deploying this morning to Akrotiri in Cyprus," a ministry spokesman said.

Image: The guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage is seen operating in the Arabian Gulf

Photograph: Reuters

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