The United States is considering launching a punitive strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, blamed by the U.S. and the Syrian opposition for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Here's a look at key Syria developments around the world Friday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
The U.S. government said it has "high confidence" that Syria's government carried out a chemical weapons attack — killing 1,429 people, including at least 426 children. Those numbers are significantly higher than what Syrian activists and aid workers have reported from Syria. The U.S. chemical weapons assessment said Assad's government used an unidentified nerve agent, and cites human and satellite intelligence that it said backs up publicly available videos and other evidence.
U.N. experts completed a final day of on-site visits in their investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. Shops and supermarkets in Damascus were filled with people stocking up on bread, canned food and candles ahead of expected strikes, but there were no apparent signs of panic or shortages. U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirsky said the chemical weapons investigators visited a military hospital in Damascus in response to the Syrian government's allegations of three chemical weapons attack against Syrian soldiers earlier this month. The team is now packing and getting ready to leave Syria on Saturday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon privately briefed the five permanent members of the Security Council on the activities of the chemical weapons team. Nesirsky said the team has concluded its collection of evidence related to the alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, including visits to field hospitals, interviews with witnesses and doctors, and gathering biological samples and environmental samples. He said U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane will meet with Ban in New York on Saturday to give him a report on the investigation.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen from Copenhagen said the alliance has no plans for military action in Syria. He said approval for doing so would require the approval all 28 NATO members. But Rasmussen pointed the finger toward Syrian forces for the chemical weapons attack: "It demands cynicism beyond what is reasonable to believe that the opposition is behind a chemical attack in an area it already largely controls."
French President Francois Hollande said his country can go ahead with plans to strike Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons despite the British parliament's failure to endorse military action. He told the newspaper Le Monde that the "chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished."
Presidential foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov expressed puzzlement over why the U.N. team was leaving "when there are many questions about a possible use of chemical weapons in other areas in Syria." He said Russia has not seen the U.S. intelligence that Washington claims proves the role of the Syrian government in last week's alleged chemical weapons attack.
Treasury chief George Osborne warned that Britain should not turn its back on the world after the stunning parliamentary defeat of a government motion for military intervention in Syria. He told the BBC there will be "national soul-searching" about Britain's global role after the "no" vote.
German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany isn't considering joining military action againstSyria and hasn't been asked by others to do so. Berlin has called for the international community to take a "clear position" following the alleged chemical attack, but has left open what exactly that might entail.
Followers of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held rallies in Baghdad and the southern Iraqi city of Basra to denounce any Western strikes against Syria. In the capital, about 2,000 Sadrists demonstrated while chanting anti-American slogans after Friday prayers. About 3,000 Sadrists rallied in Basra, some carrying banners reading "No to America."