A US government report to be released as soon as tomorrow will provide one of the final pieces of groundwork ahead of an expected strike on Syria, reports the Washington Post. The report will set out the timeline of how Bashar al-Assad's regime used chemical weapons in last week's alleged nerve agent attack outside Damascus. According to Foreign Policy, the evidence includes "panicked" phone calls between Syria's foreign ministry and the leader of a chemical weapons unit, raising the possibility that a rogue officer could have been responsible.
Key Syria ally Russia has starting pulling its citizens out of the country ahead of a Western air assault that many now see as inevitable. Russia's foreign minister warned that intervention "will lead to the long-term destabilization of the situation in the country and the region," the AP reports. Deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin had harsher words: "The West behaves towards the Islamic world like a monkey with a grenade." In other developments:
- Military action could happen as soon as tomorrow, when British PM David Cameron calls an emergency meeting of Parliament to vote on British involvement, reports the AP. France and Turkey are also expected to contribute, but the Arab League has refused to support intervention.
- US officials insist that the strikes being considered are to "deter and degrade" Syria's ability to launch chemical attacks—not to bring about regime change. But some analysts warn that a largely symbolic assault will hand Assad a propaganda victory by allowing him to claim that he faced down the world's only superpower, the New York Times notes.
- While the US says it has proof of a chemical attack, UN investigators are still at work; they were seen leaving a Damascus hotel today and anti-regime activists say they were headed for one of the areas affected by last week's alleged attack. A UN spokeswoman says they might need more than two weeks to finish.
- Indeed, any intervention by the US, Britain, and France may come before the UN inspectors complete their investigation—and will also likely come without the approval of the UN Security Council, as Russia and China have long been against a strong response, the AP reports. Britain is putting forward a Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian government and, the BBC reports, "authorizing necessary measures to protect civilians" today, though it will likely be vetoed by Russia and China.
- UN special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi says Security Council approval is needed for any military action—despite the fact that "it does seem clear that some kind of substance was used ... that killed a lot of people."