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Chemical weapons attack in Syria to be answered by coalition, US says

After the British parliament's vote against military action in Syria, the US is looking for partners to respond to Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons. France appears to be at the top of the list.

During a trip to the Philippines on Friday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Britain's rejection of military action would not stop the US from searching for an "international coalition that will act together" in a response to the Syrian regime. The opposition claims Damascus used chemical weapons in an attack on August 21 killing over 350 people. A UN team of chemical weapons experts are currently in the capital investigating these claims.

"It is the goal of President Obama and our government that whatever decision is taken, that it be an international collaboration and effort," Hagel said in Manila, adding that the White House respected Britain's decision not to get involved and that consultation with Britain and other allies was ongoing.

"Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together," he said.

France ready to act

One potential partner is France, which – along with Britain and the US – had been pushing at the UN Security Council for a resolution that would permit military strikes against the Syrian regime.

French President Francois Hollande said on Friday in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde that all options are on the table with regard to an intervention in Syria.

"The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished," Hollande told Le Monde. "France wants firm and proportionate action against the Damascus regime."

He also indicated military action could happen "before Wednesday."

UN coalition ruled out

This UN option is effectively off the table due to staunch opposition from Russia, a Syrian ally that has sold weapons to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Russia opposes any resolution of the UN Security Council indicating the probability of the use of force, (or) any resolution that could be used for military action against Syria," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the ITAR-TASS news agency Friday.

Despite Britain's support at the UN for an international coalition that could have acted militarily against the Syrian regime, the British parliament on Thursday denied Prime Minister David Cameron the backing of lawmakers by voting to keep Britain out of any military conflict in Syria. As prime minister, Cameron could have called for military action without support from parliament. However, he has vowed to respect the decision.

Germany plans to stay out

The spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would continue to push for a solution at the United Nations.

"We hope the Security Council will develop a unified position," Steffen Seibert said on Friday on Berlin. He added "we hope no one in the Security Council will turn a blind eye to such a crime," referring to the chemical weapons attack.

Siebert also said "we haven't considered any German military participation and we still aren't doing so."

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle made similar comments Friday that ruled out Germany's participation in any military engagement in Syria.

mz/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)