Syria: UN weapons inspectors attacked as they try to reach site of alleged poison gas attack

Damascus blames 'terrorists' for attack on team trying to get to site of alleged chemical weapon attack after they say they were 'deliberately shot at multiple times'

Syria has insisted rebel forces were responsible for an attack in which a team of UN inspectors came under fire while trying to enter the site of an alleged gas attack.

Syrian state television claimed an information ministry source had said the international experts were shot at by "terrorists", a term it commonly uses to describe rebels trying to topple Bashar al-Assad.

"The Syrian government will hold the armed terrorist groups responsible for the safety of the members of the United Nations team," the source added, according to state television.

Syria had agreed to let UN inspectors visit the scene of the violence, which the charity Médecins Sans Frontières said had killed around 350 people and left 3,600 needing treatment for "neurotoxic symptoms".

The team had reportedly arrived in Moadamiyeh, a western suburb of Damascus and one of the areas where the alleged gas attack occurred. They were meeting with doctors and victims at a makeshift hospital when they came under fire.

Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for the UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, said the vehicle was "deliberately shot at multiple times" in the buffer zone area between rebel- and government-controlled territory, adding that the team was safe.

Western countries, including Britain, are planning to take unilateral military action against the Assad regime within two weeks in retaliation for its alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria.

David Cameron discussed launching missile strikes against key regime targets during a 40-minute telephone call with Barack Obama on Saturday night and also with the French President François Hollande on Sunday. While Downing Street said western powers had not ruled out seeking UN endorsement for military action they added that they were also prepared to unilaterally.

"We cannot in the 21st century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity and there are no consequences," the foreign secretary, William Hague said. A Downing Street source added: "We intend to show that an attack of this nature will not pass without a serious response."

Mr Cameron is expected to cut short his holiday in Cornwall and return to London to chair a meeting of the Government's National Security Council on Tuesday.

A young fighter in Aleppo A young fighter in Aleppo  

Mr Cameron may hope that the limited nature of the planned response may help him avoid having to hold a pre-emptive vote on military action in Parliament, where he could face strong opposition not just from Labour but also his own backbenches who are concerned about the UK being increasing dragged into yet another Middle Eastern conflict.

A Downing Street spokesman said that Mr Cameron had "always been clear that MPs should have a chance to debate this type of issue" but he added: "He reserves the right for the Government to act and respond."

However Douglas Alexander MP, Labour’s shadow Foreign Secretary said: "If the Prime Minister is now considering military options involving UK personnel then of course I would expect him to seek a recall of Parliament and to come to the House of Commons."

Any military action is likely to take the form of missile strikes from US naval forces in the region, which were ordered to move closer to Syria on Saturday.

The new head of the UK armed forces, General Sir Nick Houghton is meeting with General Lloyd Austin, the US commander in the Middle East in Jordan. The pair are attending a pre-planned meeting of defence chiefs but are expected to discuss the planned action and possible targets "at the fringes" of the conference.

Government sources said it was too early to say whether British military personnel would take part in any of the attacks but would provide complete political support.

The western response it unlikely to be long lasting and is expected to consist of limited air strikes on key targets. It will allow Mr Obama to insist that America is capable and willing to take action over the use of chemical weapons which last year he described as a "red line" for the administration.

However, there are fears that any strike could lead to retaliation or terrorist attacks in the region either from Syria or its Iranian supporters. It is also likely to lead to condemnation from Russia and make any internationally brokered settlement that much harder. Significantly the Government said discussions with Russia over the response to the chemical weapons attack had so far only been at a "senior official" level.

The convoy of UN inspectors is seen leaving the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus The convoy of UN inspectors is seen leaving the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus  

A Downing Street source said that Mr Cameron would speak again to the US President and would also be engaging with other key European allies. It said: "If the Assad regime were innocent they wouldn't have stopped UN inspectors from coming and they would have stopped shelling the area.

"Therefore we are into a scenario of, not has there been an incident and does the international community need to respond, but how should the international community respond? This is where our focus now is.

"The aim here is to have a clear, concrete response from the international community that deters further outrages and makes clear that we will stand up to the prohibition of chemical weapons. We need to show that their use will not go unchecked."

Asked about getting a UN mandate from military action, it said: "We are not excluding the UN route and we will keep engaging with UN partners and working the diplomatic machine. But we do not want the regime or its allies to use the UN to drag this all out. An attack of this nature passes without a serious response."

It added that any attack would not be intended to sway the military balance between Assad forces and they Syrian opposition. "This is not about trying to shape the outcome of the Syrian conflict by military means. This is focused on the incident that happened on Wednesday."

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments