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U.K. to Ask for U.N. Action on Syria

[image]Reuters

Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they escort a convoy of U.N. vehicles carrying a team of chemical-weapons experts a at one of the sites of an alleged attack in Damascus's suburbs of Zamalka on Wednesday.

BEIRUT—The U.K. said it would introduce a United Nations Security Council resolution Wednesday asking the body for authority to protect Syrian civilians, as Western diplomats stepped up efforts to build a coalition for attacking Syria.

U.N. investigators on the ground in Syria resumed their work and gained access to some of the areas hardest hit with suspected chemical attacks by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last week.

The U.N. team arrived in Zamalka around noon Wednesday and visited a field hospital, according to witnesses and activists. Investigators interviewed doctors and patients and took blood samples and soil.

"We've always said we want the U.N. Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that," said a message from U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron's Twitter account.

The military offensive launched by Syria's army appeared halted in Zamalka because of the investigators' visit, opposition activists said.

"They are here, talking to people and visiting the hospital. The shelling has stopped," said Mohamad Abdullah, an opposition activist in Zamalka, who had gone to the hospital when the inspectors arrived.

Videos posted on YouTube also showed inspectors at the Zamalka hospital talking to a female patient and asking her about her injuries and how far A rocket had landed from her home.

Activists and residents in the Al Ghouta area, which has been under military siege for a week, said that no one was evacuating in anticipation of a U.S. attack.

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague arrives in Downing Street on Wednesday in London.

However, residents of Damascus reached on phone and Skype said many families were evacuating neighborhoods populated by pro-Assad Allawites. Families were gathering their valuables and heading toward the Lebanese border. One doctor said that a Syrian official she knew was sending his wife and children to Beirut.

Those who were staying said they were stocking up on basic goods such as bread, canned food and fuel for generators.

The Shaam News Agency, belonging to the opposition, said at least 10,000 Syrians had entered Lebanon through the Al Masna border in the past 24 hours.

The U.S. said a day earlier that new evidence and intelligence had left no doubt that Mr. Assad had deployed chemical gas against civilians in last week's deadly attack in the Al Ghouta suburbs near Damascus. Syrian opposition groups and activists said over 1,400 people had died, many of them children and women.

Syria's government continues to deny the allegations, claiming opposition rebels were behind the attack as a way to deter the Syrian army's recent tactical gains in rebel territory and to rally up support for military intervention.

The U.N.'s Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said in Geneva on Wednesday that it appeared "some substance was used" in the attack on civilians but that international law stipulated that the U.N. must authorize a military action.

Since last Wednesday—the day of the attack—momentum is building for the international community to act against Mr. Assad. The military attack, led by the U.S. and joined possibly by allies such as the U.K., France and Turkey, would be intended at curbing Mr. Assad's military might, not toppling him from power, American officials have said.

The French Parliament will debate the crisis situation in Syria on September 4 during an emergency session, government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud Belkacem said Wednesday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whose country is the only Muslim-majority Middle East nation so far to publicly offer to join a military coalition against Syria even without U.N. authorization, flew to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday to discuss Syria with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al Faisal, the Saudi state press agency said. It was among a flurry of meetings among Arab, European and U.S. civilian and military leaders on Syria in recent days.

Prince Saud late Tuesday called for a "serious and firm international position" regarding Syria, without mention of the kingdom's usual caveat that any action should take place under the remit of the U.N. Security Council. The alleged Aug. 21 chemical attack in Syria highlighted a "Syrian regime that has lost its Arab identify," the Saudi foreign minister said, in remarks carried on the website of the Foreign Ministry.

Saudi Arabia for months has been the most active country behind the scenes in pushing for tougher international action on Syria. Several Saudi and Gulf security and political analysts on Tuesday and Wednesday identified Saudi Arabia as the Arab country most likely to volunteer assistance to an international military coalition against Syria, if the mission were to broaden to trying to weaken the Assad regime.

Weakening the regime—rather than a more limited strike against any alleged Syrian capability for chemical weapons—is the "preferred and expected" option among Saudis, said Mustafa Alani, a veteran Saudi security analyst who is director of defense and security studies at the Gulf Research Center.

The Interfax news agency quoted Russia's First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov as saying, "To discuss some kind of Security Council resolution before the U.N. inspectors working in Syria have presented their report would be at the least premature." He said that Russia supports continued efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of the International Affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, denounced the British initiative as a "tactical move."

"They want to show they aren't ignoring the Security Council," he said, saying London and Washington will go ahead with a military strike even if the resolution is rejected.

Russia, one of the Assad regime's main allies, has vetoed past Security Council resolutions aimed at raising the pressure on Syria and officials have warned that any military action risks a broader crisis.

Write to Farnaz Fassihi at farnaz.fassihi@wsj.com and Nicholas Winning at nick.winning@dowjones.com

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