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Middle East

Syria crisis: Assad regime asks UN to protect it from 'any aggression' from the West

In other international developments, Russia calls US chemical weapons evidence ‘unconvincing’, while France starts revealing its own intelligence for parliament scrutiny and China warns Americans not to act alone on military intervention

Syria has called on the UN to protect it from "any aggression" it may face in the wake of the alleged chemical weapons attack on Damascus.

The regime of Bashar al-Assad has written a letter to the international organisation, addressed to secretary general Ban Ki-moon and President of the Security Council Maria Cristina Perceval, asking for its protection against anticipated strikes.

It said Mr Ban should “shoulder his responsibilities for preventing any aggression on Syria” and asked the body to “maintain its role as a safety valve to prevent the absurd use of force out of the frame of international legitimacy”.

The letter, written by Syrian UN envoy Bashar Ja'afari, said the US was “a state that uses force against whoever opposes its policies”, and described the evidence cited by Secretary of State John Kerry as “old stories fabricated by terrorists“ based on fake photos from the internet.

The comments mirror those coming from Russian officials today, which refute US evidence that the regime was behind the Damascus attack.

American attempts to prove Assad's involvement in the use of chemical weapons are “absolutely unconvincing”, according to Russia’s foreign minister.

The accusation that the Syrian government ordered the bombing of its own people using nerve agents is central to the US’s case for a military retaliation. Ahead of the issue going to a vote in Congress, Mr Kerry has asserted the state is behind the deaths of over 1,400 Syrians on 21 August, 400 of whom were children.

Yet speaking today at Russia’s top diplomatic school, Sergey Lavrov said  the evidence coming from Washington lacked crucial detail.

“Yes, they showed us some findings but there was nothing specific there: no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals,” Lavrov said – without elaborating on the nature of those tests.

Lavrov said: “What our American, British and French partners showed us in the past and have showed just recently is absolutely unconvincing. And when you ask for more detailed proof they say all of this is classified so we cannot show this to you.”

While the US’s evidence was called into doubt, France was set to present its own intelligence on the alleged chemical attack to its parliament.

President Francois Hollande is becoming increasingly isolated in his demands for Bashar al-Assad's government to be punished with military force, but reports indicate the country’s constitution means it is highly unlikely that any such action would be put to a wider democratic vote.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault will meet parliament leaders later today to discuss the crisis, and the head of parliament's foreign affairs committee Elisabeth Guigou said this would include the presentation of French intelligence which pointed clearly to Assad's forces being behind the attack.

And Le Journal du Dimanche published claims from a declassified French intelligence document - confirmed as authentic by a government official - which said Syria's chemical weapons arsenal included sarin, VX nerve agent and mustard gas.

Syria had about 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, one of the world's largest such arsenals, which could be delivered with long-range missiles, aerial bombardments or short-range artillery, according to the document.

Elsewhere, China has urged the US not to act alone in trying to punish the Syrian government for its alleged involvement in the incident, after its foreign ministry said today Washington had briefed Beijing over the matter.

China has so far joined Russia in blocking UN action against the regime, and spokesman Hong Lei said any response must conform to the UN Charter and the basic principles underlying international relations.

The UN’s refugee agency today released its latest statistics regarding those displaced by the country’s ongoing civil war.

The organisation’s head Tarik Kurdi said seven million Syrians, almost a third of the entire population, have been forced to move as a result of the violence.

He said around two million had been made to flee into neighbouring countries, and also that two million children were among the overall total impacted by the conflict.

Mr Kuri said UN assistance had thus far been a “drop in the sea of humanitarian need”, and that international donations would have to be more than trebled to meet the basic requirements helping those displaced by the brutal war.

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began in 2011.