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Sniper attack hikes Syria tension
International tensions over chemical weapons use in Syria have worsened after UN weapons inspectors came under sniper fire as they sought to investigate a deadly attack blamed by Western nations on the regime of president Bashar Assad.
Prime Minister David Cameron is breaking off from his holiday to continue a round of calls with world leaders amid mounting speculation that the UK could join international military action. He will chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday to discuss potential responses to the deadly attack, which killed hundreds of people, but Foreign Secretary William Hague declined to rule out air strikes within days.
Downing Street said a decision would be made on Tuesday over whether to recall Parliament amid increasingly vocal demands from MPs on all sides to be given the chance to pre-approve any UK involvement in military action.
Mr Hague said force may be the only remaining option after the failure of diplomatic efforts to end the bloody violence in Syria, insisting that it could be deployed legally even without Russian support at the UN Security Council.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has cancelled a visit to UK troops serving in Afghanistan so that he can continue to take part in the Government talks over the Syria crisis. A spokesman for Mr Clegg, who is the deputy chair of the National Security Council, said he supported the need for a "strong response" from the international community to the "abhorrent" use of chemical weapons.
Mr Clegg agrees that, while any action would have to be "legal and proportionate", it would not necessarily need UN agreement, he said, as Russia firmly ruled out backing military action and accused the West of taking a "dangerous path".
The inspectors were travelling to the site of the attack in a suburb of Damascus when one of their vehicles was "deliberately shot at multiple times by unidentified snipers in the buffer zone area" , a UN spokesman said. They have since replaced the car and made it unharmed into the area where nerve agents are reported to have killed hundreds, where they interviewed survivors, witnesses and doctors and collected samples.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had asked UN disarmament chief Angela Kane to make a "strong complaint" to the regime and opposition forces "so that this will never happen again" and inspectors' security would be assured.
Syrian President Bashar Assad firmly denies "politically motivated" claims that his regime has used chemical weapons - suggesting that opposition forces could be responsible. But Mr Hague said there was "no other plausible explanation" for the deaths and injuries.
A Downing Street source said that if MPs were to be summoned back to Westminster it would "almost certainly" be after Wednesday's scheduled NSC meeting. The decision would be taken on Tuesday when Number 10 "expected to have a lot more information", they said.