United States, Great Britain prepare for attack on Syria

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DAMASCUS, Syria (CNN) — Days after the United States moved warships armed with cruise missiles into the region, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told the BBC on Tuesday that forces were ready to carry out a strike on Syria if ordered. A senior Defense Department official told CNN that any strike could be completed “within several days.”

Meanwhile, Great Britain is also preparing a response. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office recalled lawmakers from their summer vacation Tuesday to vote on his own country’s response to the alleged chemical attack.

Cameron’s office also said the country’s military was making contingency plans for a Syrian operation, joining U.S. officials who said Monday that President Barack Obama’s administration was evaluating options for a military response to the suspected use of chemical agents against the Syrian rebels. President Obama has yet to decide how to respond, the defense official said Tuesday.

More than 1,300 people — including many children — are believed to have been killed in a chemical attack there.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem denied reports that the Syrian government turned on its own people and blame rebels for the deaths.

“If anybody who has got any evidence, who can accuse our forces that they used this kind of weapon, I dare them to bring it out to the public,” Moallem said.

An intelligence report detailing evidence of the alleged attack could be released as early as Tuesday, a U.S. official told CNN. The report will include forensic evidence and intercepted communications among Syrian military commanders, the official said.

While stopping short of directly accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government of a massacre, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday called chemical weapons use a “moral obscenity” and said Syrian actions are “not the behavior of a government that has nothing to hide.”

“We know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons. We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets. We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said that Syria was “systemically destroying evidence” of last week’s attack by continuing to shell the area. And he said sniper fire Monday that damaged a vehicle being driven by a team of United Nations weapons inspectors “only further weakens the regime’s credibility.”

Syrian ally Russia is casting doubt on the accusations and criticizing the United States.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday accused the United States of trying to “create artificial groundless excuses for military intervention” in Syria.

In a statement, the ministry complained that Washington was attempting to bypass the U.N. Security Council to take action on the reported chemical attack.

Russia is an ally of Syria’s president and has a permanent seat on the council. It is capable of blocking measures against his government that are proposed to the U.N. body.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov has said that there is no proof yet that the Syrian government was involved in last week’s reported attack. His office has compared the Western allegations against Syria to the claims that Iraq was hoarding weapons of mass destruction before the U.S. invasion in 2003 — claims that fell apart once American troops began searching for them.

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