A French intelligence report claims there was "massive use of chemical agents" in an attack in east Damascus last month.
The classified information was released on Monday after Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (pictured above on right) presented evidence to prominent lawmakers during an emergency parliamentary session in Paris, alleging that Syria's regime had used chemical weapons.
"The Syrian regime launched an attack on some suburbs of Damascus held by units of the opposition, combining conventional means with the massive use of chemical agents," he said.
He added that there was “no doubt” that President Bashar al-Assad's regime was behind an alleged deadly chemical arms attack.
"The regime of Bashar al-Assad has committed the irredeemable on August 21," Ayrault said on Monday.
During a press briefing after the meeting, he said President Francois Hollande was "continuing efforts to forge a coalition as soon as possible" to punish the Syrian regime for the alleged attack.
Ayrault also said that "there is no question that France will act on its own."
President Francois Hollande under pressure
Hollande's demands that punitive military action should be taken against President Bashar al-Assad's regime makes him the only Western leader to threaten a strike without a parliamentary vote on the issue.
As head of the armed forces, Hollande is not required to wait for a parliamentary nod on such a move.
"It is up to the president to decide if a vote... should be held," Ayrault said of the emergency parliamentary session. He said there would be no vote on Wednesday as in all probability no coalition would have been formed by then. US President Barack Obama is waiting for endorsement by Congress. The British parliament voted against Prime Minister David Cameron's call for military involvement last Thursday.
NATO head “personally convinced” about allegations
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday that “a firm international response” was needed to the alleged chemical weapons attack in east Damascus.
"We believe that these unspeakable actions which claimed the lives of hundreds of men, women and children cannot be ignored," Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.
“It would send, I would say, a dangerous signal to dictators all over the world if we stand idly by and don't react," he said. Rasmussen added that he saw no further role for NATO in the Syria crisis, beyond defending Turkey.
Germany continues to seek diplomatic resolution
The office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she still hoped the United Nations could agree on a position and that the US Congress vote on military action after it reconvenes on September 9 would create more time for diplomacy. Her spokesman Steffen Seibert quoted her as saying the intervening time “should be put to use.”
Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said evidence presented by the United States, Britain and France was unconvincing. Several news agencies said Moscow would seek dialogue with the US Congress on Syria to persuade lawmakers to take a “balanced position” on any intervention.
Samples taken from the site of the alleged chemical arms attack in east Damascus are currently being analysed by UN weapons inspectors at a laboratory in the Netherlands.
lw/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)