UN envoy stresses Council mandate; U.K. may move Council but Russia, China lukewarm

A groundswell of opposition is building up in West Asia against a unilateral western military strike on Syria, undermining legitimacy for the use of force in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons last week on the outskirts of Damascus.

The United Nations and the Arab League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi stressed on Wednesday that a military strike in the absence of a clear sanction from the UN Security Council would be illegal as it would violate international law. The veteran Algerian diplomat said in Geneva, “International law says that any military action must be taken after Security Council approval has been taken.” However, the chances of a Security Council endorsement are remote as Russia and China seem set to veto any resolution permitting the use of force against the Syrian government.

Analysts say that Mr. Brahimi’s assertion is likely to feed into the growing opposition to the use of force outside the UN framework against Syria, violating its sovereignty.

Aware of the importance of a UN mandate, Britain is set to propose a resolution in the Council that would seek authorisation of “necessary measures to protect civilians” in Syria under Chapter 7 provisions of the UN charter that permit the use of military force.

The New York Times is reporting that U.S. President Barack Obama could order a military strike citing the need to protect a vulnerable population as was done in Kosovo by former President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Alternatively, he could invoke the principle of “responsibility to protect”.

As the momentum for an attack seemed to gather strength, regional heavyweight Egypt weighed in sharply on Wednesday, with a firm rejection of military intervention in Syria — a position that contrasted starkly with the pro-opposition stances of the deposed government of President Mohamed Morsy.

Egypt’s foreign minister Nabil Fahmy asserted, “Egypt rejects military intervention in Syria, as we believe a political solution is the only way out for the crisis there. Egypt supports the Geneva-2 talks.” By referring to the Geneva process, Egypt appeared to have aligned its position with that of Russia and China, which remain the most outspoken advocates of the commencement of diplomacy to resolve the Syrian crisis.

The Egyptians also made it clear that they had not jumped to the summary conclusion drawn by the western powers that the Syrian government was responsible for last week’s attack. “Accountability should be based on accurate information, in order to determine who is responsible for the chemical attack in Ghouta,” observed Mr. Fahmy.

The Egyptian foreign minister also distanced his country from “jihadists,” which he said Cairo does not support.

The 22-nation Arab League has also opposed a military attack, despite holding “the Syrian regime responsible for this heinous crime”.

On Wednesday, Iran, a top ally of the Syrian leadership stepped up the level of its opposition in anticipation of U.S.-led military strikes in Syria. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned the Americans that the consequences of military intervention in Syria would be catastrophic, as Washington would incur losses comparable to its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With high stakes riding their mission, UN chemical weapons inspectors, who are in Syria, proceeded on Wednesday to inspect the site where the alleged chemical attack took place. “They (the inspectors) later arrived in the Eastern Ghouta area on the north-eastern outskirts of Damascus under the protection of rebel fighters,” said the pro-opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission.

Counselling patience and restraint, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the U.S. and its allies to give time to the inspectors to complete their findings. “We must pursue all avenues to get the parties to the negotiating table,” observed Mr. Ban.