UN chemical weapons inspectors are to leave Syria in 48 hours as
President Bashar al-Assad vowed Thursday that Syria would defend itself against
The inspectors would continue their investigations Friday and would draw up a report as soon as they have left Syria Saturday morning, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in Vienna.
They spent their third day in the field Thursday as al-Assad said Syria would win against any assault "with its steadfast people and brave army."
"The threats of launching a direct aggression on Syria will make it more determined to stick to its fixed principles and its independent decisions," he said, according to state media.
A push by Western leaders for military intervention after they blamed al-Assad's government for launching chemical attacks last week outside Damascus has been stalled by political rows and diplomatic deadlock.
British Prime Minister David Cameron had urged a speedy vote in Parliament on military action but was forced to back down after the opposition Labour party and sceptical members of his own Conservative party said they needed to see the evidence from weapons inspectors.
Parliament was to debate late Thursday a response to the alleged chemical weapons attacks, which the opposition claimed killed 1,300 people.
The Syrian government, in a move seen by the West as a delaying tactic, requested that the UN inspectors stay longer to investigate three other sites. Moscow echoed the demand Thursday.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that apart from the site of last week's alleged attack, the inspectors should visit three others, including Khan al-Asal near Aleppo, where at least 25 people died in March.
If this requires more time, the inspectors should stay in Syria longer, Lukashevich said.
Ban said it was "my sincere wish that the investigation team should be allowed to continue their work as mandated by the member states."
"Diplomacy should be given a chance," he said. "... Peace [should be] given a chance. It is important that all the differences of opinions should be resolved by peaceful means and through dialogue."
The British Parliament was to vote on a motion backing military action in principle but noting that "every effort" must be made to secure UN Security Council backing for the intervention. A second vote would be needed to authorize British involvement.
The Labour party would vote against the government motion, a party source said.
Britain has deployed six Typhoon jets to Akrotiri in Cyprus, which the Ministry of Defence said was a "prudent and precautionary measure" "at a time of heightened tension in the wider region."
Efforts to reach a consensus among the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council made little headway Wednesday as China and Russia continued their objections to Western military intervention in Syria's 30-month-old civil war.
The meeting was called to discuss a British resolution authorizing "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Syria.
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated their opposition to a strike on Syria, agreeing in a telephone call late Wednesday that such a step would be a breach of international law, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.
Russia is sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, the country's general staff said.
An anti-submarine frigate from the Russian Northern Fleet would arrive in the region in the coming days, the Interfax news agency reported. It would be joined by the cruiser Moskva, currently in the North Atlantic.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier in the week that the US military had "moved assets in place" in the region to be able to fulfil whatever option President Barack Obama orders.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing opposes any external military intervention and urged restraint by all sides until the UN team has investigated the suspected use of chemical weapons.
Obama said he had not yet signed off on a plan to strike Syria but stressed in a television interview Wednesday that he would not be beholden to a UN mandate.
Washington was expected to release an intelligence report as early as Thursday showing evidence that the Syrian regime was behind the August 21 chemical attacks outside Damascus.
Jihadist groups accused the United States of using the potential mission as an opportunity to "target" hardline groups battling al-Assad's regime.
"If the West tries to take advantage of the situation to slaughter revolutionaries and jihadists, the Muslim world is ready to strike back," a member of the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria said.
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