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Prompt UN reaction needed, says Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to use talks in the UN Security Council to agree on a prompt international reaction to last week's alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin was urged by Germany's Angela Merkel during a phone call on Thursday to seek a quick unanimous international reaction within the UN to last week's poison gas attack in Syria being probed by UN inspectors, according to her spokesman in Berlin.

Chancellery spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German and Russian leaders agreed during their conversation that the United Nations should deal with the alleged attack and that Syria's conflict could only be solved politically.

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Syria: Waiting and debating

Seibert said Merkel and Putin had agreed the "inhumane poison gas attack on the Syrian civilian population constitutes a major breach of international law" and required a response.

They hoped for a prompt report to the UN Security Council "so that those who are responsible for this monstrous crime can face justice," Seibert said.

Seibert said Merkel and French President Francois Hollande had also agreed during a phone call that a prompt report by the inspectors (pictured above) to the UN Security Council was first needed.

Electorate dubious

Germany is 24 days out from a federal election, with Merkel facing an electorate largely dubious about suggested reprisals sought by US and British leaders.

Surveys show two-thirds of Germans opposed to a military intervention in Syria. Merkel's main challenger, Peer Steinbrück of the opposition Social Democrats, has said findings from UN inspectors should be awaited.

Westminster debate

In London on Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron told parliamentarians recalled from their summer recess that military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not amount to "taking sides in the Syrian conflict."

Opposition Labour sources said the party would vote against a Westminster motion sought by Cameron which merely seeks backing for the principle of military action and reportedly omits to mention compelling proof about who perpetrated the attack.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the House of Commons had learned "lessons" from the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq that it should not be asked to "write a blank check."

A second vote would be needed to authorize British involvement in any military strikes suggested by members of President Barack Obama's cabinet.

On Wednesday, Obama said Washington had concluded that the Assad regime was to blame for the August 21 attack. He added that he had "not made a decision" to proceed with military action to send Assad "a shot across the bow."

Assad's officials have denied blame for the gas attack and instead alleged that rebels were perpertrators. Washington says that denial is not credible.

Inspectors to leave Saturday

Visiting Vienna on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said UN chemical weapons inspectors would continue their probe in the Damascus area on Friday and leave Syria on Saturday.

"Diplomacy should be given a chance," Ban said. "Peace should be given a chance. It is important that all the differences of opinions be resolved by peaceful means and through dialogue."

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Beijing opposed any external military intervention in Syria and urged restraint until the UN inspectors had investigated the suspected use of chemical weapons.

Suffering already 'immense'

The International Red Cross (ICRC) warned on Thursday that any escalation in Syria would increase the suffering of civilians which was already "immense."

"In large parts of rural Damascus, for example, people are dying because they lack medical supplies and because there are not enough medical personnel to attend to them," said Magne Barth, the head of the ICRC's delegation in Syria.

ipj/kms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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