The United Nations has confirmed that a toxic substance deployed last week during an assault in Syria killed "maybe more than 1,000 people," but is warning against military intervention without Security Council backing.
"It does seem that some kind of substance was used that killed a lot of people," said UN representative Lakhdar Brahimi in a press conference, adding "this confirms how dangerous the situation in Syria is."
While asserting that the recent incident in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus was "outrageous...unacceptable," Brahimi said that the international community must develop the political will to look for a solution.
The U.S. is planning a "tailored, limited" strike, not a protracted engagement like Iraq, in response to the chemical attacks they assert have been carried out by the Syrian regime.
"If we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, 'Stop doing this,' this can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term," Obama told PBS Newshour.
The Obama administration has previously told The Associated Press that they would not allow diplomatic paralysis to prevent a response to the chemical weapons attack. The U.S. is considering military intervention in Syria even without the UN and allies backing them.
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U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said possible UN rejection of their plan — most likely led by Russia — won't slow the administration.
"We cannot be held up in responding by Russia's intransigence — continued intransigence — at the United Nations," Harf said. "The situation is so serious that it demands a response."
The source of the purported chemical attack has not been confirmed, and UN inspectors in Syria are only mandated to collect evidence of chemical use, not to determine who is behind it, but U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, have pointed a finger squarely at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria government continues to deny responsibility for attacks
Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Ja'afari again rejected "baseless accusations" of chemical weapons use by his country's government. He told reporters Wednesday that he has information about an alleged rebel attack in which deadly sarin gas was used against Assad's troops.
Ja'afari said he brought a letter from the regime requesting that UN weapons inspectors "immediately" turn their attention towards investigating "three heinous incidents" of alleged chemical attacks against government forces on August 22, 23 and 24. The regime has asked the UN inspectors to extend their stay in Syria and investigate their claims. The request could delay U.S. military action.
"Dozens of Syrian soldiers are currently treated in the Syrian hospitals due to this use of chemical agents by the terrorist armed groups operating in the countryside of Damascus," said Ja'afari.
Asked how he believes rebel fighters might have obtained chemical weapons, he said he believes ingredients for the production of toxic agents were smuggled in from outside Syria.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the special team tasked with investigating possible chemical warfare in Damascus will need at least four more days to collect the evidence they need.
The team's first field testing began in the western suburb of Moadamiyeh on Monday. The journey was delayed by sniper fire, though the team was unharmed. On Wednesday, the UN's convoy of seven SUVs again left a hotel in central Damascus to resume inspections.
According to anti-regime activists, the inspectors made their way this time to the Damascus suburb of Eastern Gout, which was affected by the alleged chemical attack.
UN inspectors have not accused rebel fighters or government troops of using chemical weapons.
Britain convinced Assad's regime behind attacks
Britain reinforced its stand on the situation Wednesday, with its National Security Council unanimously backing action against the regime.
Britain put forward a draft resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN charter that seeks a measure "authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians." Military force was one of the options that would be authorized.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council met to discuss the resolution, which is almost certainly doomed to fail if put to a vote, as it would likely be vetoed by Syria's allies — Russia and China.
A diplomat close to the conversations but speaking on condition of anonymity said that after two hours of talks, the draft resolution was being sent back to the members' respective governments for consultations.
According to the diplomat, Russia again expressed disapproval for military intervention in Syria, reasoning that UN inspectors are still on the ground there and have not brought back conclusive evidence pointing to Assad's regime as the perpetrators of a chemical attack.
The White House has characterized the UN inspections as "redundant" and claims to have its own intelligence showing chemical weapons were used by Syrian military forces against innocent civilians.
Although the Arab League has condemned the Syrian government, it has not offered regional support to a retaliatory military strike.
Jordan's information minister said Wednesday his government "will not be a launching pad for any military action against Syria" and favours a diplomatic solution.
Canada says firm response is necessary
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has called the alleged chemical attack an "outrage" and Prime Minister Stephen Harper is conferring closely with Obama as the Syrian situation escalates.
After meeting with the head of the Syrian National Council president George Sabra in Ottawa, Baird said that a "firm international response is needed" to last week's attacks. Baird said it's not clear yet how Canada could contribute to a possible military intervention.
On Tuesday, Baird met with NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to brief them on developments in Damascus.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Trudeau said he would be happy to see Parliament recalled in order to discuss Canada's possible role in Syria.
"All the parliamentarians are united in our horror and our desire to help," he said. "Humanitarian aid, greater help in terms of refugees — these are things that Canada can do and the Canadians are united and wanting to do."
With files from Reuters, The Associated Press