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PM urged to recall MPs over Syria
Black columns of smoke rise from heavy shelling in the Jobar neighbourhood, east of Damascus, Syria (AP)
David Cameron is facing pressure to recall Parliament amid signs that the US and Britain are preparing for military action against Syria.
Labour and Tory backbenchers have insisted the Prime Minister should explain himself to MPs before intervening in the wake of alleged chemical weapon use by Bashar Assad's regime. Downing Street said summoning the Commons from its summer break had not been ruled out - but stressed Mr Cameron "reserved the ability to take action very swiftly if needed".
Earlier the Syria government attempted to take the edge off international criticism by agreeing to let UN inspectors visit the scene where chemical weapons were apparently deployed on Wednesday. A team of experts is expected to begin an investigation on Monday.
But Washington has accused the regime of having "something to hide" and delaying access for four days so that evidence degrades. An intense round of diplomacy on the crisis has also been continuing, with Mr Cameron and French president Francois Hollande warning that the "crime must not be swept under the carpet".
A Number 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister had also spoken to German chancellor Angela Merkel. "They agreed that this was a very grave incident and that there was little doubt that it had been carried out by the regime, particularly given their refusal to grant the UN access to the site immediately after the attack," the spokesman said.
Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said: "In light of ongoing international developments, it is right that the UK works with the international community to try and find an agreed way forward in Syria. If, in reality, the Prime Minister is now considering military options involving UK personnel then of course I would expect him to seek a recall of Parliament and to come to the House of Commons and make his case in advance of a decision being made."
A Downing Street spokesman stressed no decisions had been taken and there was no timetable for action. "The Prime Minister has made clear that MPs should have the opportunity to debate issues like this and that still stands although we must reserve the ability to take action very swiftly if needed," the spokesman said. "No decisions have been taken on military action and the timetable for a serious response from the international community is not yet clear. We are very conscious of when MPs are due to return and haven't ruled out recalling them earlier."
The former Liberal Democract leader Lord Ashdown said Syria was "moving towards an endgame - one way or another". He said president Assad was "playing for time" and he should not be allowed to "drag the thing out so that the whole of this crime, the memory of this crime vanishes away."
Lord Ashdown told BBC Breakfast he suspected much of the evidence weapons inspectors could have gathered would have degraded. He said Iraq would be in everyone's mind therefore inspectors must be given enough time, but Russia and China, Syria's allies, could try to veto action.
"Then we're hard up against a difficult decision," said Lord Ashdown. "Do you let this act go unpunished or are you prepared to take unilateral action... If so, then when?"