UK & World News
Syria: 'Assad Regime Behind Chemical Attack'
Syrian President Bashar al Assad was behind a "massive and co-ordinated" chemical attack in Damascus, the French government has claimed.
A seven-page intelligence report sets out five points which, MPs will be told, suggest the Assad regime was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people in the Syrian capital last month.
The evidence includes satellite imagery, allegedly showing the attacks were launched from government-controlled areas, a French government source told the Reuters news agency.
Mr Assad told French newspaper Le Figaro the allegations were "illogical" and warned of "negative" repercussions for French interests if the country engaged in military action.
However, the report claimed the attack "could only have been ordered and carried out by the regime", adding: "We believe the Syrian opposition does not have the capacity to carry out an operation of such magnitude with chemical agents."
Earlier, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said MPs would be given every piece of evidence the government has, including information that has been classified until now.
MPs expected to debate the evidence on Wednesday, although a vote has been ruled out.
French President Francois Hollande can order military action without parliamentary approval, although some lawmakers have urged him to put the issue to a vote, following the lead of US President Barack Obama, who decided to seek authorisation from Congress before agreeing to missile strikes.
France is the United States' main ally in the Syrian crisis, after Britain voted against military action.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has said samples of hair and blood provided by first responders after the August 21 attack tested positive for sarin, a nerve agent estimated to be 500 times more toxic than cyanide.
According to US estimates, the attack killed 1,429 people, including 426 children, although France put the figure at "at least 281".
In other developments, Mr Obama met with Senator John McCain, his former rival for the presidency and an advocate of military intervention in Syria, for talks ahead of next week's Congress debate.
Mr McCain said a vote against the President would be "catastrophic" and would "undermine the credibility of the United States".
He spoke of an attack that would "degrade Assad's capabilities" and allow opposition fighters to "reverse momentum on the battlefield".
It came as the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and four other Navy vessels sailed into the Red Sea, in a move described by retired Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations during the 2011 strikes on Libya, as "prudent planning".
Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed US evidence of alleged chemical weapons use by the Assad regime as "absolutely unconvincing".
He said the intelligence contained "nothing specific ... no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals".
In Britain, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he could not foresee any circumstances in which the Government would return to Parliament to vote for a second time on the prospect of military action.
"We're not going to keep asking the same question of Parliament again and again," he said.
"We live in a democracy. The executive cannot act in a way which clearly is not welcome to Parliament or the British people, so we're not proposing to do so."
It came as MPs called for answers over a chemicals trade deal with Syria signed months after the bloodshed started.
The Department for Business issued licences for the export of sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride to the war-torn country in January last year before revoking them several months later.
The chemicals are capable of being used to make nerve gas such as sarin, and also have a variety of industrial uses.
The Government said no chemicals were exported before the licence was revoked in June 2012 following EU sanctions but MPs said they intend to raise the issue at Westminster.