Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets.
Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week.
As the preparations gathered pace, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, warned that the world could not stand by and allow the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people “with impunity”.
Britain, the US and their allies must show Mr Assad that to perpetrate such an atrocity “is to cross a line and that the world will respond when that line is crossed”, he said.
British forces now look likely to be drawn into an intervention in the Syrian crisis after months of deliberation and international disagreement over how to respond to the bloody two-year civil war.
Military planners in Washington and London are addressing the ‘significant challenge’ of finalising a list of potential targets designed to cripple Assad’s chemical warfare capability.
The possibility of such intervention will provoke demands for Parliament to be recalled this week.
The escalation comes as a direct response to what the Government is convinced was a gas attack perpetrated by Syrian forces on a civilian district of Damascus last Wednesday.
The Assad regime has been under mounting pressure to allow United Nations inspectors on to the site to establish who was to blame for the atrocity. One international agency said it had counted at least 355 people dead and 3,600 injured following the attack, while reports suggested the true death toll could be as high as 1,300.
Syrian state media accused rebel forces of using chemical agents, saying some government soldiers had suffocated as a result during fighting.
After days of delay, the Syrian government finally offered yesterday to allow a team of UN inspectors access to the area. However, Mr Hague suggested that this offer of access four days after the attack had come too late.
Meanwhile, as tensions in Syria rise to unprecedented heights, Israelis, fearful of a possible chemical attack by its northern neighbor, have been flocking to gas mask distribution stations. Distribution of updated masks and chemical protection kits have been going on for several years, but on Sunday hordes of Israelis who have neglected to get their updated kits flocked to post offices, which are responsible for the distribution ( via dailymail.co.uk ).