US Secretary of State John Kerry has called the use of chemical weapons in Syria an "obscenity." Germany has said that, if proven, the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons "cannot be without consequence."
Kerry on Monday described the attack as a "moral obscenity," saying it "should shock the conscience of the world" and "defies any code of morality."
The top US diplomat did not explicitly blame the Syrian government for the chemical weapons attack Monday, but criticized the government for keeping UN inspectors away from the area for five days while continuing to shell the region.
"That is not the behavior of a government that has nothing to hide," he told reporters at the State Department in Washington.
He added that President Barack Obama is talking with allies to make "an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons."
"But make no mistake," Kerry said. "President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious, and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny."
Not 'without consequences'
Germany's government earlier on Monday urged the international community to take collective action if inspectors in Syria find evidence of chemical weapons used in an attack last Wednesday. Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said that the evidence available before the inspection appeared strong.
"The circumstances, the images, the witness reports and the statements from international aid organizations sadly speak a very clear language," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. He said that if the use of chemical weapons was ascertained, then it "must be punished, it cannot be without consequence."
Asked whether these consequences would involve military intervention, a move Germany has opposed until now in Syria, Seibert said that there were "various possibilities for an international reaction."
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle similarly said that should the suspicions of chemical weapon usage be confirmed, "then Germany will be among those [countries], that consider it right for there to be consequences."
Russia doubts allegations, France sees 'duty' to act
Russia, probably the most staunch supporter of Assad on the UN Security Council, again warned on Monday against any military intervention without UN approval.
"The use of force without the approval of the United Nations Security Council is a very grave violation of international law," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, warning western countries not to repeat what he called "past mistakes."
Lavrov's British counterpart, William Hague, said the government in London was prepared to respond to the events in Syria, even without Security Council approval.
"Is it possible to respond to chemical weapons without complete unity on the UN Security Council? I would argue yes it is - otherwise of course it might be impossible to respond to such outrages, to such crimes," Hague said in an interview with BBC Radio 4.
French officials did not specify the nature of any international response, but Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he expected a decision "in the coming days." France had previously said an international response might range from sanctions to airstrikes, and Fabius told Europe 1 radio that while many options were open, "the only option that I do not envisage is doing nothing."
UN chemical weapons inspectors, in the country initially to investigate prior allegations of chemical attacks made against both sides, visited the site of Wednesday's alleged attack on Monday. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed their arrival and said "every hour counts" as the investigators seek clues at the scene of a five-day-old attack.
msh,dr/jr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)