Syria crisis: As it happened

Key Points

  • British MPs rejected a government motion to support the principle of military intervention in Syria
  • In response the White House said the US 'will continue to consult' with Britain - 'one of our closest allies'
  • The five permanent UN Security Council members met briefly, but diplomats said they remain "far apart" on Syria
  • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his country will defend itself against Western aggression
  • All times in GMT

    Hello, and welcome to our live coverage of the crisis in Syria. International wrangling continues over military intervention in Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons. Britain and the US are due to debate the issue within their own governments. Meanwhile, the UN says its weapons inspectors in Damascus are due to wrap up investigations into the alleged chemical attacks on Friday. Follow us for updates as they happen, expert analysis and colour from BBC correspondents, and comment from you, our readers.


    British MPs will convene in parliament today to debate military action in principle only, after the opposition blocked government plans for an early vote on intervention.


    On Wednesday the UK presented the five permanent members of the UN Security Council with a resolution seeking to authorise "all necessary measures" to protect civilians in Syria.


    But Russia blocked the resolution, saying there was no point in discussing anything until UN inspectors had finished their probe in Damascus and solid evidence had been presented.


    French President Francois Hollande has held talks with Syrian opposition leaders, including the head of the Syrian National Coalition. Speaking afterwards, President Hollande said last week's suspected chemical attack in Damascus required what he called an appropriate response from the international community.


    President Hollande said the Syrian opposition needed practical help from other countries if it was to succeed: "Everything should be done to reach a political solution, but this solution will not materialise until the coalition is capable of standing as an alternative with the necessary force, especially the force of its army. And we will not reach this solution until the international community is capable of halting this escalation of violence and this chemical [weapons] massacre."

    Jan Brookes, Loughborough

    emails: I do not condone the actions of the government in Syria by any means but it is always the innocent who pay the price in these situations. The sad thing is, that after all this time we are, as human beings, no more civilised now than we were hundreds of years ago & have apparently learnt nothing from the centuries of war & associated slaughter.

    Angry Bloke

    tweets: As oil gets harder to find middle east conflicts become more frequent and the western vultures circle overhead, hmmm how odd!


    The debate in the UK's House of Commons will start shortly after 13:30 GMT (14:30 BST). The House is being asked if it "agrees that a strong humanitarian response is required from the international community and that this may, if necessary, require military action that is legal, proportionate and focused on saving lives by preventing and deterring further use of Syria's chemical weapons".

    UN weapons inspectors leave their hotel in Damascus (29 August 2013)

    UN weapons inspectors are seen here leaving their hotel in Damascus on the third day of their probe into the alleged chemical attacks. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the experts will finish their investigations on Friday and leave Syria on Saturday.

    1032: Jack Thompson

    tweets: Cameron tried to rush response to #Syria and has dropped the ball, losing control of the domestic argument.


    "Before any direct British involvement in such action a further vote of the House of Commons will take place," the parliamentary motion for debate adds.


    It is a situation "without modern precedent", writes the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson: UK Prime Minister David Cameron has lost control of a decision about peace and war.


    For a reminder of how the latest stage of the crisis kicked off, have a look at our Q&A on the alleged chemical attacks in eastern areas of Damascus last week.

    1037: Bengal Newz

    tweets: Lebanon's caretaker foreign minister said his country won't allow the use of its air space to carry out strikes against neighbouring #Syria.

    Adrian Ferguson, Palmers Green, London

    emails: Wait until United Nations present their evidence and if proved Assad's regime have committed these horrible crimes, then go in and take Assad out with the special forces that America and Britain and France have...

    Abraham Dakin, Utrecht, Netherlands

    emails: How can the current government justify a military intervention without allowing the UN to finish their analysis? And why are we all quick to assume that military intervention is the best way of stopping the atrocities? Are there not other forms of human aid that can help those stuck in this bitter conflict, without the risk of causing further loss of innocent lives?


    Russia, Syria's closest ally, is sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, Interfax news agency reports. The Russian navy has denied that the deployment was linked to the Syria crisis, insisting instead that it was part of a long-planned rotation of its ships in the region.


    There has been some confusion about whether the UK government is going to publish its legal advice on the prospect of military intervention in Syria. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it would. But the BBC now understands that it is planning to publish its interpretation of the advice, rather than the advice in full.


    Would Russia seek direct military confrontation with the West if the US and its allies chose to attack Syria? The BBC's Steven Rosenberg in Moscow gauges likely responses here

    Mark Underwood

    texts: A surgeon needs absolute precision for the patient to improve, let alone live. Would a surgical strike against Syrian targets be so precise and would it improve Syria?

    Israelis queue in Haifa (29 August 2013)

    Thousands of Israelis have been queuing in Haifi and other cities to collect government-issued gas masks, amid rising fears of a US-led strike on neighbouring Syria.


    After the UK government's decision to back down on an immediate vote on military action, the recall of Parliament was now "pointless", Labour MP Jamie Reed has said.

    Instead of being about the "realities of Syria", he wrote on Twitter, the debate would be about "Cameron's venality, poor judgement and party management. People, you're being insulted. Again."


    Israeli President Shimon Peres has warned that his country will respond with "full force" to any Syrian counter-attack. "Israel is not and has not been involved in the civil war in Syria, but if they try to hurt us, we will respond with full force," the Jerusalem Post quotes him as saying.


    There is a sense of apprehension and anxiety in the Syrian capital Damascus as residents await an international response, the BBC's Jeremy Bowen reports.


    In pushing for possible UK military action in Syria, PM David Cameron has made his "gravest misjudgement yet", the leader of the UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, has said.

    "There is no public appetite for this country to get involved in yet another lengthy foreign war that clearly is not directly in our national interests," he told the BBC.

    Bill Regan, Toronto, Canada

    emails: All resolve should under auspices of UN and command and control should be under NATO to share costs and responsibility. Best case would be a naval block of supplies to the military in Syria and a naval block of Syria government revenue producing exports. There are plenty of Navy ships in the region and aircraft can monitor land routes of access. The slow grind would work within months.

    MoAfrika K, Johannesburg, South Africa

    emails: Military intervention in a situation where chemical weapons were used and no concrete evidence exist yet as who used them, is a show of weakness and ignorance. Is this another show of military power without thinking of more Innocent lives of women and children who'll be slaughtered collateral? Why don't you just get Syrian government to secure and surrender chemical weapons that are left or secure and remove them from Syria?


    UK Green MP Caroline Lucas told the BBC: "If the government has legal advice it is absolutely incumbent on them to publish it before [the] debate." The decision not to publish was "deeply unacceptable", she added: "It suggests we've learnt nothing from the lessons of Iraq."


    "The prime minister and President Obama are decent men, acting for honourable reasons out of horror at the atrocity that took place," writes the Telegraph's Peter Oborne.

    "Nevertheless", he adds, "London and Washington have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing since the invasion of Iraq. They are showing the same contempt for evidence, for international institutions and for the lessons of history."


    The speaker of the Syrian parliament has written to the British House of Commons, inviting a parliamentary delegation to Damascus. The letter says Syria and the UK share al-Qaeda as a common enemy and that an attack on Syria would "automatically strengthen" the militant movement, the BBC's Jeremy Bowen reports.


    In his letter to the British House of Commons, the speaker of the Syrian parliament also threatens that his government will sue the UK in case of an "aggressive and unprovoked act of war".

    Andrew Muir, Glasgow

    emails: The problem is we have had weak western leaders over the past years who have failed to take leadership in diplomacy. What do all these diplomats do anyway? Our western leaders have failed because they are weak and lack judgement. Fire them all including the diplomats. A military strike is lunacy

    Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    tweets: Lots of traffic jams caused by security checkpoints. not an easy life for Damascenes these days. #Syria


    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has warned that his country will "defend itself in the face of any aggression," Syrian state TV reports. "The threats of direct aggression against Syria will only increase our commitment to our deep-rooted principles and the independent will of our people," he is quoted as telling a delegation of Yemeni politicians.


    The Democratic Unionist Party, which has eight MPs in the UK Parliament, says PM David Cameron had a 15 minute-long telephone conversation about Syria on Wednesday with their deputy leader, Nigel Dodds. The DUP is "very sceptical" about any military intervention in Syria, a spokesman said.

    It has concerns about supporting some elements of the Syrian opposition, and has been in contact with Christian groups in Syria and is aware of their fears about any intervention, the BBC's Mark Devenport understands.


    What do ordinary Syrians think about a foreign military intervention? The Today Programme's Tom Bateman speaks to Damascenes to get a sense of how they regard the prospect.

    1146: Breaking News

    The UK government has published a statement on the legality of foreign military action in Syria. "The legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons," it says.


    Syrian forces appear to have evacuated most personnel from army headquarters in Damascus, residents and opposition sources have told Reuters. Witnesses say they have seen trucks at the cordoned-off entrance of several buildings, apparently transporting documents and light weapons.


    Military intervention in Syria would be legal in the absence of a UN security council resolution explicitly authorising it, the UK government believes, because:

    • there is convincing evidence of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale;
    • there is no practicable alternative to the use of force;
    • and the proposed use of force is proportionate to the aim and strictly limited in time and scope.
    A former air force officer

    emails: What is important is the golden mean between quick decision and meticulous deliberation. Other better cures for this problem? The longer we think idly, the more they take lives of innocent people.


    We have spoken to a series of international experts giving their views on the legal basis for a military strike in the absence of a UN resolution.


    The chairman of the UK government's Joint Intelligence Committee has dismissed claims - including from the Syrian government - that the chemical weapons attacks in Damascus on 21 August "were either faked or undertaken by the Syrian Armed Opposition". In a letter to the UK PM, committee chairman John Day said: "It is highly likely that the regime was responsible."

    Ian Bremmer Political scientist

    tweets: White House /UK position on Syria govt chemical weapons use is "beyond a reasonable doubt" rather than proof.


    The proposed Syria intervention carries strong echoes of the US-led Iraq invasion in 2003. But there are some fundamental differences between the two scenarios, as this feature by the BBC's Tom Geoghegan explains.


    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said weapons inspectors will leave Damascus on Saturday and report their findings into the alleged chemical weapons attacks to him as soon as they return.


    Oil prices appear to be falling in response to the news that military action against Syria might be delayed.

    BBC Monitoring

    analysis found that the Russian Twittersphere is largely hostile to the prospect of the West taking military action. Syria has also been one of the major talking points among Twitter users in the past few days. Veteran pro-Kremlin journalist Vitaliy Tretyakov called President Obama "a Nobel War Prize laureate". Top TV presenter Vladimir Solovyev raised the spectre of escalation: "To all appearances, any day now there will be war in Syria. Then Iran and then us? What should Russia do?"


    Newspapers in the Middle East are growing increasingly convinced that a foreign attack on Syria is imminent, according to BBC Monitoring. "The chemical violation is enough justification to punish the regime", says Al-Hayat, a Saudi-owned newspaper. But Egypt's Al-Ahram says: "It is oil that speaks to the imagination of the West... What is happening in Syria is part of a new episode of colonialism, even if it is hidden under the guise of human rights."


    Former UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has also weighed into the debate. "To punish the Assad government for using chemical weapons would be the action of self-appointed global policemen," he writes in the Guardian newspaper, "action that, in my view, would be very unwise."


    Syrians who have left the country and now live in the UK have been speaking to the BBC about the prospect of an intervention and their differing opinions on how to bring the suffering to an end.


    Amid the diplomatic manoeuvring, the violence is continuing in Syria itself. This is the aftermath of what activists said was a car bomb in the eastern city of Raqqa on Thursday:

    People inspect the damage at a site hit by what activists say was a car bomb in Raqqa province
    Rob Snow

    tweets: @BBC_HaveYourSay UN is going same way as LeagueOfNations. Vested interests and appeasement. Check history books to see how that turned out.


    The Russian foreign ministry has called for UN inspectors to complete their original mandate and investigate other sites in Syria where chemical weapons use has been alleged in recent months. The team should be given longer "if additional time is required for these purposes," a statement from the ministry says.


    "The availability of a right to use force for humanitarian intervention is controversial," Lord Goldsmith, Labour's attorney general in the run-up to the Iraq war, tells the BBC's News Channel. "But there's no doubt that Nato relied upon that in order to justify the bombing of Serbia in relation to Kosovo." He concludes that "most people these days, including many international lawyers of distinction", now recognise such a right, provided certain conditions are met.


    The UK's Labour Party has said it will vote against the government's motion on Syria as it regards the text as "opaque" and believes it would provide support for military action in principle.


    English-language Twitter posts in the last week reveal a shift in opinion against an attack on Syria, BBC Monitoring reports. The Crimson Hexagon social media analysis company found 62% of relevant posts were in favour of military intervention in the days immediately after the suspected chemical weapons attack, but that now 59% are opposed to military intervention.


    The UN inspectors whose mission has become a focus of this crisis have been continuing their work on Thursday. Here one of the experts inspects a site in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka.

    A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask

    The Speaker of the Syrian Parliament has said that Syria will sue those responsible in British courts if the UK attacks.


    blogging for Press Gazette suggests Fleet Street's restraint over Syria may have changed Cameron's mind. "The Sun, Guardian, Independent and Telegraph leader writers all counselled caution yesterday, mostly with a strong hint that military action might not be a great idea," she writes. "The Mail and Express went further. The Express editorial, headlined An entirely inappropriate use of our military power, pointed to the rebels' Al-Qaeda links and urged MPs to vote against air strikes."


    The head of the Chaldean Christian church in neighbouring Iraq has said a military strike on Syria would cause a "catastrophe". Archbishop Louis Sako said there was a danger of repeating "the same experience [as] in Iraq," AFP reports. Iraq's Christians have been heavily targeted in recent years and many in Syria's Christian minority are worried over the effects of any escalation.


    Conservative MP Crispin Blunt cautions against military action, which he says could make the situation in Syria "very, very much worse". He tells the BBC News Channel: "If doing nothing means you're not going to make the situation worse by trying to act when you don't have control of events,... doing nothing may be considerably better."


    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeated his warning that a strike would be a "disaster for the whole region" and added on Thursday that the US "will suffer the consequences in the same way they did in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iranian media reports.


    Syrians are "leading their lives, taking no notice of US and western threats of attacks", state-run Syrian TV reports today, as seen by BBC Monitoring. The channel aired footage of Syrians expressing their defiance in the face of threats of Western military strikes, with one man saying "if there's any foreign intervention, we will all be soldiers for this nation, we'll all respond with an iron fist to Israel or to anyone who comes near our country".

    Sureyya Kilic, Izmir & London

    writes: I call two countries my home - Turkey and the UK. I have family and friends in Turkey. I live in London with other part of the family and friends. I know ordinary people do not want the war, army intervention or bombs. The governments must use diplomacy and other means to end the bloodshed in Syria.


    Bombing Syria is unlikely to be successful, the former head of the British army, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, tells the BBC's Daily Politics programme. Instead, he says, President Assad should take "individual responsibility" for his regime: "Leaders have got to realise that one day... they will have to stand up in a court of law, if they've broken international law, and be accountable for their own actions."

    Kate Benyon-Tinker, BBC News

    tweets: Residents of villages along #Jordan's border with #Syria say they're worried in case of a chemical attack on nearby Deraa

    Lyse Doucet Chief international correspondent

    tweets: "The suffering of civilians in #Syria has now reached unprecedented levels and there seems to be no end in sight" says @ICRC


    "If there is no reaction to the use of chemical weapons, then Assad will assume that he has a green light to continue using them," Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the chairman of the UK parliament's intelligence and security committee tells the BBC. "If he is punished," the Conservative MP and former foreign secretary adds, "there is a good prospect that this will deter him from doing it again."


    UK Prime Minister David Cameron is launching the House of Commons debate on Syria, which will continue until the expected vote at 22:00 local time (21:00 GMT). MPs are here to debate "one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century", he says.


    "The government motion makes clear that anything we do would have to be legal, proportionate and specifically focused on preventing further chemical weapons attacks," Mr Cameron says.

    John Cassidy,

    writing in the New Yorker, praises the UK parliament and the British public for taking a "stand against the rush to bomb Syria". He says, "Now it's up to the American people and their representatives to demand a similar pause for reflection and political debate."


    German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call to use the UN Security Council to get a quick, international reaction to Syria's conflict, Reuters reports. Both leaders agreed that the council should examine the report from the UN inspection team.

    Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a debate on Syria

    The "well of public opinion was poisoned" by the experience of the Iraq war in 2003, UK Prime Minister David Cameron tells MPs. This is why he says he feels he must ensure "ensure the maximum possible legitimacy for action". But it is "beyond doubt" that Syrian government has used chemical weapons, and the UK cannot stand aside, he argues.

    Iain Watson Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets on the debate: Packed chamber - standing room only - both IDS and Jeremy Hunt can't find a seat


    Mr Cameron says it would be "unthinkable" to take military action if there was "overwhelming opposition" on the UN Security Council.

    Iain Watson Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Gasps when the PM said he was publishing a summary of legal advice ie not the full legal advice


    Mr Cameron says while he agrees with the need to get the United Nations Security Council to approve military action in Syria, he said that could not be the only legal base for action. Any action has to be taken by countries with the capability to deter and degrade any further use of chemical weapons by Syria, he argues, and it is in Britain's interest to maintain the international taboo against chemical weapons being used.

    Iain Watson Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Audible gasp - not just from labour benches - when the PM says we are not getting involved in the conflict


    In response to a question about why the regime would use chemical weapons now, Mr Cameron says he believes the most likely explanation is that Mr Assad has been "testing the boundaries".


    Labour backbencher Glenda Jackson calls on Mr Cameron to explain why he is convinced that external military intervention can prevent further use of chemical weapons in Syria. "There is also no 100% certainty about what course of action might succeed or fail," David Cameron replies. But if there is no international response, the Syrian government will "conclude that it can use these weapons again and again, and with impunity", he adds.

    Iain Watson Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Senior conservatives saying to me that chief whip misread the mood of the party on Syria


    The Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson joins the debate to urge the UK government to ensure that those responsible for the suspected chemical weapons attacks in Syria are held responsible in an international court of law. PM David Cameron agrees, but adds: "We have to recognise the slowness of those wheels."


    The US Navy has deployed a fifth naval destroyer to the eastern Mediterranean, a US defence official tells AFP. The USS Stout is "in the Mediterranean, heading and moving east" to relieve the USS Mahan, said the official, who said both ships might remain in place for the time being.

    The Economist magazine

    tweets a striking image: This week's cover preview: Hit him hard. August 31st - September 6th 2013


    Back in the UK House of Commons, Labour MP Jack Straw urges Mr Cameron to give more details on what the objectives of military intervention would be. Mr Cameron says it would be unwise to list the potential targets now, but it was "perfectly simple and straightforward", he said, "to think of actions you could take to do with command and control of the use of chemical weapons, and the people and buildings involved in that, which would indeed deter and degrade [the future use of chemical weapons]".

    Jeremy Bowen BBC Middle East editor

    tweets: In London PM Cameron says attack would be about CW [chemical weapons], not about intervening in civil war. But all sides here in #Syria see it as intervention


    UK PM David Cameron concludes his speech by saying: "Britain should not stand aside." He goes on:"We should prepare ourselves for a strong international response."


    UK opposition leader Ed Miliband is now on his feet in the House of Commons. Politicians are united in their condemnation for the use of chemical weapons, he says, but divided over what response to take. Labour has not ruled out military intervention, he says, but adds that there is a need to be "clear eyed" about its consequences.

    Nick Robinson, BBC political editor

    tweets: Ed Miliband says repeatedly that he does not 'rule out' military intervention in Syria


    We must "strain every sinew to make the international institutions that we have in the world work to deal with the outrages in Syria", Mr Miliband tells MPs.


    Mr Miliband says the UK should follow the principle: "Evidence should precede decision; not decision precede evidence."


    Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the Conservative chairman of the intelligence and security committee, says he can see little difference between Labour's position and the government's original motion. But Ed Miliband argues that the government has underplayed both the importance of finding "compelling evidence" before taking military action and the consideration of the possible consequences of that action.

    Iain Watson Political correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: Ed miliband says UK shouldn't follow an artificial timetable on this

    1433: Iain Watson Political correspondent, BBC News

    reports: "Ed Miliband facing sceptical interventions from conservative and Lib Dems backbenchers - but unusually also from the PM, who says the attorney general has accepted conditions have been met which would make action legal."


    To recap, the government has published a summary of the UK's position on the legality of military action in Syria.

    Jon Williams, foreign editor ABC News

    tweets: Ouch: biting cartoon on #Syria @thetimes. Shadow of #Iraq looming large on both sides of Atlantic.


    Opposition leader Ed Miliband is calling on MPs to reject the government's motion on Syria, and back instead Labour's amendment. The vote is expected at 22:00 local time (21:00 GMT).


    Ed Miliband wraps up his speech, and senior Conservative backbencher Sir Malcolm Rifkind takes the floor. "What we know for certain is that chemical weapons were used," Sir Malcolm says.


    "What is the purpose of military action?" Sir Malcolm asks. "To deter further acts of chemical weapons being used." He argues that members of the Assad regime are watching very carefully to see whether they "will get away with what they have done".

    1451: Iain Watson Political correspondent, BBC News

    writes: "99 backbenchers have asked to speak in the debate."


    Labour MP Jack Straw is next on his feet, reminding MPs of his advocacy of intervention in Iraq in 2003.


    Jack Straw was the British foreign secretary at the time of the Iraq invasion. He warns MPs that is easy to start military action, but hard to stop it: "I have the scars to prove it." But the strategic case for intervention in Syria is not clear, he argues, veering between "alleviation of humanitarian suffering to some punishment of the Assad regime".


    However, former Conservative Defence Secretary Liam Fox argues that "appeasement has never worked". He tells MPs: "To do nothing will be interpreted in Damascus as appeasement of a dreadful regime, and the dreadful actions that it is has carried out."

    1513: Iain Watson Political correspondent, BBC News

    reports: "Whitehall sources say weapons inspectors could report to the security council on Saturday - a recall of Parliament over the weekend hasn't been ruled out."

    Norman Smith, BBC News Channel chief political correspondent

    tweets: Aides to Ed Miliband say "categorically untrue" that he earlier signalled his support for PM over strategy on #Syria


    In a blog post, Amnesty International warns that Syrian civilians must be protected at all cost in case of a military intervention. All parties involved have to respect six key points to comply with international humanitarian law, Amnesty says, including:

    • Refrain from carrying out indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks
    • Refrain from using civilians as human shields

    Scottish National Party MP Angus Robertson questions why Parliament has been recalled four days before it was due to reconvene anyway. He tells MPs: "The UK government expected that we would vote for a blank cheque that would have allowed UK military action before UN weapons inspectors concluded their investigation, and before their detailed findings were presented."

    Niki Underwood in Amman, Jordan

    emails: I am against military intervention in Syria. While I acknowledge that the use of chemical weapons is a horrendous crime, the repercussions of a military attack are unknown, and could plunge this region into war. Haven't we learnt from Iraq? From Afghanistan?

    Brian Whitaker Former Guardian Middle East editor

    tweets: UK parliament is now having the debate about Iraq that it should have had in 2003


    US Vice-President Joe Biden has re-confirmed that President Barack Obama "hasn't made a decision yet" on Syria, US media report.


    Back in the Commons, Labour backbencher John McDonnell criticises the evidence the government has presented in support of its case as not "good enough to risk further lives, risk counter-attack, inflame the whole region, risk dragging other states into this war, and at the same time increase the risk of terrorism on British streets".

    David Cameron (29 August 2013)

    British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier urged MPs to "make a judgment".

    "The question before the house today is how to respond to one of the most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century, slaughtering innocent men, women and children in Syria," he said.

    Matt Saunders in Beirut, Lebanon

    emails: Beirut is on tenterhooks, with people hanging on every thread of news just as much as in Damascus. I have not spoken to one person here who would support even the most considered strike.

    1549: Assaf Aboud BBC Arabic reporter

    says with all the tourists gone from Damascus, the only inhabitants of the hotels are either journalists or people working for international organisations. Read more of his analysis in our news story.


    Meanwhile, the French defence minister says the military is ready to intervene in Syria if President Francois Hollande approves an attack.

    1554: Quentin Sommerville BBC News, Tripoli

    writes: "In Lebanon the memory of the horror of civil war has stopped the violence from escalating. But there is always the danger that war next door could tip the balance of power here."


    Turkey, on alert against possible chemical attacks from Syria, has stocked food and gas masks along their shared border. Bunkers have been designated in seven border areas to protect people in the area from harm, AP reports.


    For those of you who prefer images, have a look at our picture gallery tracking the most recent twists and turns in the crisis.

    1605: Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight

    writes on his blog that the prospect of parliament rejecting military intervention is a "defining moment" for British foreign policy:

    "From US President Barack Obama's point of view, this could transform the UK from the position of his country's most dependable ally into a significant complicating factor as he seeks to reassure a reluctant Congress and public that the US must act."


    Former UK Foreign Secretary Lord Hurd, who belongs to Mr Cameron's Conservatives, has spoken against the government taking action in Syria: "I cannot for the life of me see how dropping some bombs or firing some missiles in the general direction of Syria will lessen the suffering of Syrian people. I think it's likely to increase and expand the civil war in Syria."


    The International Committee of the Red Cross warns that the suffering of civilians in many parts of Syria is reaching "unprecedented levels".


    "While tempers fray and frustrations show, there is no sense of panic here," says the BBC's Richard Galpin in Tel Aviv. BBC correspondents have helped us compile a piece taking in the mood in various cities around the world.


    The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are due to meet again later today to discuss the Syrian crisis, according to the Reuters news agency.


    The permanent Security Council members met on Wednesday, but the UK apparently was unable to persuade Russia to support its draft resolution. Have a look at our news story from Wednesday for a reminder of those negotiations.

    Norman Smith, BBC News Channel chief political correspondent

    tweets: David Davis - "We do not want to be conned into a war" cos of flawed intelligence #Syria


    UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond tells the BBC: "If the UN cannot act then it is possible to act lawfully and properly under international law."


    Why is military intervention being talked about now? What would a Western strike look like? Who is supporting the push for action? If these questions are on your mind, then take a look at our Q&A on the possible action to be taken against Syria.


    Shares rise again as fears over an imminent attack on Syria ease, but the Wall Street Journal reports that investors remain "on edge".


    As the political debates heat up in London, Berlin, Paris and New York, the UN's chemical weapons team are continuing their work in Damascus.

    A UN chemical weapons expert checks a colleague after they ended their visit to the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus, 29 August

    A UN diplomat confirms that the permanent members of the UN Security Council will reconvene in New York today at 14:30 local time (18:30 GMT).


    Some news just in: Canada says it will not join a Western military intervention. "At the present time the government of Canada has no plans to have a Canadian military mission," Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters after speaking with his British, French and US counterparts.


    Russia has called Thursday's meeting of the permanent Security Council members, BBC correspondents in New York tell us.

    1648: Clive Coleman Legal correspondent, BBC News

    analyses the detail behind the legal position announced by the UK earlier: "The government will hope that its note will convince its critics that whatever the legality, there is moral legitimacy to intervene."


    Why the US push for rapid military intervention? Because it fears that the Syrian city of Aleppo will be the next target of a chemical weapons attack, according to the WSJ.

    Daniel M Perrine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA

    emails: As a US citizen, I have watched entranced at the intelligent, disciplined arguments from all sides of this issue, carried out in the House of Commons. This a stunning display of the historic achievement of democracy at its best.

    Max Fisher Washington Post

    tweets: One of the tabs I just closed after finishing my Syria explainer: Thesaurus entry for "depressing".

    1658: Nick Robinson BBC political editor

    reports: "The prime minister began his speech to the Commons today by listing what military intervention in Syria would not be. It would, he claimed, not be about taking sides; not about regime change; not about an invasion. Nevertheless, he faced doubts from MPs on all sides - doubts about the evidence, the legality, the consequences."


    French National Front leader Marine Le Pen has invited her Twitter followers to change their profile pictures in protest against intervention in Syria.


    The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, has been speaking in the House of Lords. "International law is based on the Christian theory of just war," he tells peers. "Just war theory says that the step of opening fire is one that must only be taken when there is no possible alternative whatsoever under any circumstances."


    "Any intervention must be effective in preventing any further use of chemical weapons," Archbishop Welby added. "I have not yet heard that that has been adequately demonstrated as likely." He also said intervention from abroad would declare "open season" on Christian communities in the region.

    Ghanem Nuseibeh, senior visiting fellow, King's College London

    tweets: Interesting argument being made that #Syria strike should be supported because "this not Bush, this is Obama" -as Lord Ashdown & others said


    The former head of the British army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, tells the House of Lords that the last few days have been "very interesting: the drums of war were banging very loudly, the people didn't like it, and the debate has changed". He says he is "delighted" by this development, and would only be prepared to support military intervention if it had the backing of the UN Security Council.

    Mark Mardell, BBC North America editor

    tweets: Wh spokesman says Congress will be briefed on some of the Syrian options tonight


    Back in the Commons, Conservative backbencher Douglas Carswell says he is "deeply unconvinced by what missile strikes and bombing might achieve" in Syria, "nor am I clear about how British involvement might end".

    Richard Galpin BBC News

    tweets: Israel gas masks distribution #Israel officials say 10,000 gas masks handed out to members of the public today (Thursday)


    If not the Syrian regime, who might be behind the suspected chemical weapons attacks? "There are all sorts of conflicting and contrary theories," says BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner: "One is that it was ordered by President Assad's brother, Maher, in a fit of rage. That's not stood up by any evidence. Another is: could it possibly have been another rogue commander, on the ground, exceeding his orders? There are reports of an intercepted phone conversation about that. But there is no supportive evidence in today's intelligence report."

    Mark Mardell, BBC North America editor

    tweets: WH spks [says] Syria not same as Iraq - then "Govt seeking high and low" for reason to invade and change regime.


    Where did the perpetrators of the suspected chemical attacks get hold of their weapons? "I wouldn't be a bit surprised if some of it came from this country," Labour MP Kate Hoey tells the UK House of Commons, "and other countries in the west, and of course Russia." Foreign military intervention in Syria is "wrong" and likely to be "counterproductive", she argues.

    1817: Nick Bryant BBC News, New York

    reports: After leaving Syria on Saturday morning, the UN weapons inspectors will fan out to a number of laboratories in European countries to test the samples they've taken from the site of the alleged chemical weapons attack. There's no timeline for when they'll present their final findings, but the UN says the tests will take "longer than days".


    While UK MPs weigh up whether military intervention in Syria is legally justified without consensus at the UN, the White House is reportedly taking a different approach. "When the president reaches a determination about the appropriate response," a spokesman is quoted by Reuters as saying, "and a legal justification is required to substantiate or to back up that decision, we'll produce one on our own".


    "It's terrible" that weapons inspectors, bearing witness to the aftermath of an atrocity, are not able to say who they believe is responsible, the former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq tells BBC World. Alexander Coker explains that laboratory analysis should be able to determine whether high-grade chemical weapons were used, suggesting Syrian government involvement.


    Suggestions that the UK's official opposition party have given "succour to Assad" in their approach to the Syria crisis have ignited an ill-tempered row in Westminster. Labour has written to the cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, accusing Downing Street's director of communications Craig Oliver of using the "infantile and irresponsible" expressions. It is demanding an apology and a retraction, claiming that recent behaviour in No 10 "demeans the office of prime minister".


    Back in the UK's House of Lords, Labour economist Lord Desai has a bleak prognosis. "We are going to intervene sooner or later," he tells peers, "because this war is going last for much longer than we think. It is not just a Syrian civil war. This is part of a 40-year crisis of the Muslim Middle East... It's not just a Shia-Sunni war, this is sort of a rehearsal, like the Spanish civil war, of the bigger conflagration which is about to come".

    Elias Bayeh in Beirut, Lebanon

    emails: An attack on Syria is viewed as an act of desperation by the West and will only serve to make the Syrian regime and president stronger and more popular.

    White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest answers reporters questions in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, 29 August

    White House spokesman Josh Earnest has distanced President Obama from any comparison with predecessor George W Bush.


    Mr Earnest said the Bush administration had sought evidence to justify military invasion and regime change in Iraq. The US was not aiming for regime change in Syria, he said, and there was a "preponderance" of evidence against President Assad.


    More movement on the US political front: President Obama has called Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner.


    Mr Boehner's spokesman said he urged Mr Obama to engage in further dialogue with Congress and the US public on Syria. The pair spoke about the potential legal justification for any military strike.

    Mohammad in Iran

    emails: I'm against war in any form and for any reason. We're human beings and live in the world not a jungle. I think if there's any evidence that proves Syrian Regime has used the chemical weapons it should be pursued through international and legal authorities.


    The meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in New York is now over, the BBC understands, although the US and the UK representatives are still in the meeting room.

    1923: Norman Smith Chief political correspondent, BBC News Channel

    reports: It's hard to see what more David Cameron can now do to win over people to the idea of some sort of action against Assad. For that reason, it seems to me, he's almost been forced into retreating into a highly partisan, highly tribal attack on Ed Miliband of "giving succour" to the Assad regime.


    There has been no comment from the Russian, Chinese or French ambassadors leaving the UN meeting in New York.

    Peter Sellars in Cockermouth

    emails: The Syrian problem should be firmly dealt with by the League of Arab Nations and not through interference by Western countries. Arab countries need to take the initiative to discipline themselves as part of their move toward democracy. Many have the military hardware to do so and the oil reserves to finance action, be that a blockade, sanctions, specific military strikes or a no fly zone.

    Norman Smith Chief political correspondent, BBC News Channel

    tweets: Conservative Edward Leigh says he does not believe PM will ever hold crucial second vote on #Syria because he knows cannot win it: "We were lied to over Iraq... we will not go down that road again."

    Bill Neely, International Editor for ITV News

    tweets: Longer than normal queues at #Syrian-Lebanese border of people leaving Syria, cars packed with possessions, after braving 2 years of strife.

    Daniel Lopez in Los Angeles, US

    emails: I believe that action must be taken in Syria. The longer the US and allies stand by, the worse the Syrian situation will get. I am ashamed at my government's inability to take a clear stand on the Syrian situation. I commend Mr Cameron for taking action to solve the problem. I hope the UK will lead the fight to defend the humanitarian ideals and that my own country will finally find its backbone to join our allies.


    "Thank goodness we have a British parliamentary democracy," rejoices Conservative backbencher Peter Bone, "where we can come as MPs and influence the decisions of the executive." MPs from both sides of the House, he says, have altered the PM's stance on Syria. "In the US, you have 100 congressmen begging the president to let them debate the issue. We are so much better off in this House."


    The debate on Syria in the UK Parliament has prompted its first resignation. Jim Fitzpatrick has handed in his resignation as shadow transport spokesman, the BBC understands.


    Earlier in the House of Commons, Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick said he would vote against both the government motion and Labour's amendment as he opposes military intervention of any kind.


    While there were further discussions, no agreement was reached at the meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council in New York. "Sides remain far apart," a diplomat told the BBC.


    Syrian opposition activists tell Reuters news agency government forces have removed several Scud missiles and launchers from a base in the north of Damascus in an attempt to protect weapons from a possible missile attack.

    To get an idea of what Syria's defence capabilities might be, take a look at this analysis piece by the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

    Nick Bryant BBC News, New York

    tweets: Exactly the same deadlock in Permanent Five meeting at #UN as yesterday. No movement from Russians. No meeting of minds. #un #syria


    Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston confirms she will not be backing the government's motion, calling for the West to allow the Arab League to find a peaceful solution. "The British people are not standing by; they are delivering humanitarian aid... but they do not believe the best humanitarian aid can be delivered in the form of a missile," she told parliament.

    Lyse Doucet Chief international correspondent

    tweets: "Syrian market" #Jordan which sold goods fr #Syria, 5 km away. Border now closed. Sells goods fr China


    UK shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander stresses there should be no rush on military action.


    Mr Alexander tries to clarify the difference between the government's motion and Labour's amendment, highlighting Labour's insistence on the need to produce "compelling evidence" that the Syrian government was responsible for the use of chemical weapons.


    Back in the UK parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg joins the debate. He says inaction "is not a choice without consequences".


    The sole aim of the motion, according to Mr Clegg, is to relieve humanitarian suffering. He says it is not about arming the rebels or anything else.

    2056: Nick Bryant BBC News, New York

    says although the weapons inspectors have not been asked to apportion blame, their work will provide an "evidence-based narrative", which could imply guilt.


    More from Nick Clegg: "Unequivocally there will be no military intervention on the part of the UK without a separate vote," he says, clarifying that military action could only take place after a second Commons vote.


    "Wars don't end because the United States turns a blind eye and/or leaves the battlefield. In fact, they get worse." As policy-makers assess their options, here are ten Syria lessons from The Washington Post.


    British MPs are starting the first vote of the evening; this time on the Labour amendment. For a reminder of what the motion contains, take a look here.


    "It's frightening because my husband could be called in for the military reserve. The repercussions for us could be really, really bad," Israeli woman Yulia tells our correspondent Richard Galpin in his latest piece from Tel Aviv.


    A reminder that you can find all our best material on the Syria conflict special report page.


    British MPs have rejected an opposition amendment calling for more evidence that President Assad's forces had used chemical weapons in Damascus by 220 votes to 332.


    If you want more on that row that's already been dubbed "succour-gate" (see 19:23 and 18:51), our politics team has the full story.


    UK MPs are now moving on to the second vote of the night: the government's motion on the principle of military intervention in Syria.

    2127: Ian Pannell BBC News,

    reports from northern Syria on a bomb attack that left 10 dead and many others with horrific burns earlier this week. "Whatever Britain, France and America decide, what matters here is not how people are dying but death itself," he says. Video of his report will be posted on the website very soon.

    2133: Breaking News

    The UK government has lost the vote on Syria by 285 votes to 272.


    UK Prime Minister David Cameron tells MPs: "It's clear to me that the British Parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action; I get that, and I will act accordingly."


    The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson tweets: Ed Miliband just applauded as walked into Labour whips office after shock government defeat


    The BBC's chief political correspondent, Norman Smith, tweets: Prospect of a second Syria vote or UK joining any attack on #Syria would now seem a political non-starter.


    You can now watch the report from the BBC's Ian Pannell that we promised earlier. Our reporter and cameraman saw the aftermath of an incendiary bomb attack on a school playground in Aleppo province. Their report contains some disturbing images.


    Conservative MP Crispin Blunt said tonight's vote was a "very significant positive" for those with doubts about military action and for Parliament. "That's it," he said. "Parliament has spoken and the United Kingdom isn't going to be involved directly in any of this."


    Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says the US "will be disappointed that Britain will not be involved" in any military strike. "I don't expect that the lack of British participation will stop any action," he adds.


    Mr Hammond confirmed to Newsnight there would not now be any British military involvement in Syria. "I hoped we would carry the argument but we understand there is a deep well of suspicion about involvement in the Middle East," he said.


    Former government minister, Labour's Andrew Adonis tweets: "Tonight maybe the most significant Commons defeat for a govt on a single issue since devolution went down in 1976. Ramifications huge."

    Dr Sumod George in Bangalore, India

    emails: One of my close friends is a Syrian. We worked in the same lab. I have been sending emails to him since the civil war broke out. The chemical warfare that the Syrian government launched against citizens is unacceptable. If this is 100% true please teach Mr Assad and his troops a lesson.


    Meanwhile, back in Syria, the Wall Street Journal's Middle East correspondent Sam Dagher tweets: "#Damascus tonight: in Mezzeh got stuck in pro regime rally, people honking horns, waving #Syria flags & singing '#Assad millions love you'."

    Green MP Caroline Lucas

    tweets: Well that was worth being recalled for! Parliamentary democracy at its best & 1st step to independent foreign policy #Syria #peoplepower


    The wife of UK government minister Michael Gove, the journalist Sarah Vine, tweets: "I am SO angry about today's vote. No military action would have come out of it. It was simply about sending a signal. Cowardice."

    Dominic Casciani, BBC News Home Affairs Correspondent

    tweets US-UK special relationship based on sharing intelligence, unity on security and mutual strategic priorities. Now UK has broken step


    Lots of talk about the political significance of the government's defeat. There were audible shouts in the Commons chamber of "resign" and "go now" as the speaker read out the results.


    Senior Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell tells the BBC "no-one can remember" the last time a government was defeated on an issue of this "magnitude". He says he supported the government's motion but worried there was "no endgame".


    Well, just what are the implications of Parliament's rejection of the the US position? According to the Times: "President Obama cannot launch a military strike against Syria without British support, military and intelligence experts in the US said last night."


    Former defence secretary, Labour's Lord Reid, tells the BBC David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague's handling of the crisis has been a "shambles" and has resulted in a "loss of prestige for the prime minister and this country".


    Labour leader Ed Miliband says UK military action in Syria is "off the agenda" and criticises Mr Cameron's "cavalier and reckless" leadership. The atmosphere between the two parties has soured this week as Labour's position hardened against intervention. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond earlier accused the Labour leader of giving "succour" to President Assad.


    The White House has responded to the news across the Atlantic. Here's the statement in full: "We have seen the result of the Parliament vote in the UK tonight. The US will continue to consult with the UK government - one of our closest allies and friends. As we've said, President Obama's decision-making will be guided by what is in the best interests of the United States. He believes that there are core interests at stake for the United States and that countries who violate international norms regarding chemical weapons need to be held accountable."

    Ian Bremmer, US political scientist and president of Eurasia Group research and consulting firm

    tweets: "Hard earned lesson for Obama on red lines: set them by yourself ...and you're left to enforce them by yourself."

    tellers in the house of commons And here's the moment the result of the vote was delivered to the Commons speaker earlier
    Lyall Grant A second meeting of the permanent UN Security Council members broke up earlier without agreement. Here's the UK's ambassador Lyall Grant leaving the meeting
    2323: Abdul Omar, a Syrian activist based in the UK

    says: "What's utterly disgusting is how we are seeing party politics literally determining the life and death scenarios of people in Syria today. As soon as the vote was announced you could hear in the UK Parliament shouts of "resign", "go out" as if this was something that had directly to do between Ed Miliband and David Cameron. Nobody is discussing what the effect on Syrians is going to be tomorrow, how Assad will use this as a green light to show everybody "I can go unabated doing whatever I can and nobody can ever do anything to stop me". Basically we are giving this man the go ahead to use all of the weapons in his arsenal, knowing that the UK will not do anything because we are too busy arguing for political party purposes."


    Ed Miliband tells the BBC he was "determined" to "learn the lessons of Iraq" and says the prime minister must learn not to be "cavalier". He adds that the so-called special relationship between the US and UK "cannot simply be about doing what the American president says he wants to do".


    Don't forget to check the BBC's main story for major developments, as well as plenty of analysis and reaction.

    Breaking News

    White House statement says US will 'continue to consult with the UK Government - one of our closest Allies' amid speculation over British-American relations


    Tory MP Stewart Jackson tweets: "Let's get tonight's vote in perspective. Parliament listened to the people and did its job. We may not always like it but our system works."

    Greek protesters

    Meanwhile, in Greece tonight, communist party supporters were among those demonstrating outside the US embassy. They were marching against any Nato or Greek involvement in Syria.

    Hannah Jones from Rhondda Cynon Taff

    emails: "My heart is broken at this decision. I simply do not know how these MPs can turn their backs upon people enduring such horrific suffering. When they go home to their families tonight, they should think about all the innocent Syrian civilians who have had this simple human right so brutally removed."

    K Khamjani from Tucson, Arizona

    emails: "Though Britain may not be taking part, I live in the southwest part of the US near the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and military aircraft have been departing since the early hours of this morning. I've lived here 25 years and have never heard activity like this."


    The Telegraph's Tim Stanley tweets: "And nobody is saying do nothing. They're saying stop, think and do the right thing #Syria"


    The UK newspaper front pages are dominated by the government's defeat. Here's a flavour of them:

    Daily Mail front page
    Metro front page
    Independent front page The Independent draws a comparison between the conflict in Syria - and the one in Westminster
    Ghanem Nuseibeh, research fellow at the Centre for Middle East & Mediterranean Studies, Kings College London

    tweets: It will be politically difficult for the UK to vote in support of military action at the UN.

    he continues The most appropriate way for UK to vote at the UNSC on #Syria action is to abstain. Was unthinkable to suggest earlier this evening.


    Well that wraps up our live coverage for today. The rest of the BBC News website and the BBC News channel will cover any further developments as they happen. Thanks for joining us.


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