DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Momentum appeared to build Tuesday for Western military action against Syria, with the U.S. and France saying they are in position for a strike, while the government in Damascus vowed to use all possible measures to repel it.
The prospect of a dramatic U.S.-led intervention into Syria's civil war stemmed from the West's assertion - still not endorsed by U.N. inspectors - that President Bashar Assad's government was responsible for an alleged chemical attack on civilians outside Damascus on Aug. 21 that the group Doctors Without Borders says killed 355 people. Assad denies the claim.
The Arab League also threw its weight behind calls for punitive action, blaming the Syrian government for the attack and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.
British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament to hold an emergency vote Thursday on his country's response. It is unlikely any international military action would begin before then.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said U.S. military forces stand ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, and French President Francois Hollande said France was "ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the West should be under no illusion that bombing Syrian military targets would help end the violence in Syria, an ally of Moscow, and he pointed to the volatile situations in Iraq and Libya that he said resulted from foreign military intervention.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his country would use "all means available" to defend itself.
"We have the means to defend ourselves and we will surprise everyone," he said.
At a news conference in Damascus, al-Moallem challenged Washington to present proof to back up its accusations and he also likened the allegations to false American charges in 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion of that country.
"They have a history of lies - Iraq," he said.
The United Nations said its team of chemical weapons experts in Syria had delayed a second trip to investigate the alleged attack by one day for security reasons. On Monday, the team came under sniper fire.
In Cyprus, Defense Minister Fotis Fotiou said naval traffic in the eastern Mediterranean was very heavy with vessels from "all the major powers." He also said Cypriot authorities were planning to deal with a possible exodus of foreign nationals from Syria.