DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrians stocked up on bread, canned food and candles Friday as the U.S. and France prepared for a potential military strike against the Syrian government, which the West alleges used chemical weapons against civilians in its civil war.
After Britain's Parliament voted against participating in military action against the regime of President Bashar Assad, the United States found itself with France as its only major partner in an armed intervention.
French President Francois Hollande pledged strong support for a U.S. operation, despite the British rejection and the Obama administration facing skepticism at home from lawmakers.
"The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished," Hollande said in an interview published Friday by the newspaper Le Monde.
In Syria, U.N. inspectors began what was expected to be the last day of their probe into the alleged attack on Aug. 21 that the international aid group Doctors Without Borders says killed at least 355 people in a Damascus suburb. They are expected to leave Syria on Saturday and then brief U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on their findings.
President Barack Obama was convening senior national security advisers at the White House to discuss plans for possible military action against Syria. The meeting was expected to be followed by the public release of a report on intelligence the U.S. has gathered about the alleged chemical weapons attack.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking from Manila, Philippines, issued an impassioned defense of the principles behind the planned strike.
"I don't know of any responsible government around the world ... that has not spoken out in violent opposition to the use of chemical weapons on innocent people," Hagel said, adding that such attacks violate basic standards of decency.
He said that Washington would continue to seek partners in its Syria mission: "Our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together."