by our Arab Affairs correspondent

Syrian air defences are on high alert ready for the expected American attack that could come any time if Barack Obama gets his way in Congress next week. A large US naval armada, backed by some French warships, is in the eastern Mediterranean ready to launch the Cruise missiles on Obama’s orders and the missile-carrier Moskva is sailing to join the existing small Russian flotilla off the Syrian coast.

Cuba is urging the UN Security Council and General Assembly to work to prevent a proposed military strike against Syria. Russia and China are leading the diplomatic offensive to stop US-led military action and the Assad government has called on the UN to intervene to prevent any aggression against Syria.

The war lobby in the United States has gone into a frenzy to persuade Congress to endorse Obama’s decision to hit Syria when it meets on Monday. And the crisis is already overshadowing the G20 conference in St Petersburg at the end of the week even though it is not on the formal agenda of the summit.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has again warned the Americans against any unilateral action against Syria while ridiculing American claims that Syria was responsible for the poison gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus last month that killed several hundred civilians and injured many, many more.

Putin said it was “ludicrous’’ that Syrian President Assad would use chemical weapons at a time when it was gaining ground against the rebels.

The Russian president said that the US Congress had no right to approve the use of force against Syria without a decision from the UN Security Council, and that doing so would be an “act of aggression”. He also accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of lying to Congress about al Qaeda’s role in the Syrian conflict when seeking the approval of US legislators for military action against Syria.

Putin says that Russia would condemn Syria if there was clear evidence that the Assad government had ordered the use of poison gas. But Obama and the other western war-mongers can only cite the dubious assertions of their own intelligence services and repeat the claims of the rebels that they themselves fund and arm.

Putin is demanding that the Americans produce their so-called evidence to the UN Security Council for analysis. “We believe that at the very least we should wait for the results of the UN inspection commission in Syria,” Putin said, adding that so far there is no information about what chemical agent exactly was used in the attack in Damascus’ suburbs and who did it.

“I’ve already said I find it absolutely ridiculous that [Syrian] government’s armed forces, which today are actually on an offence mission and in some regions have already encircled the so-called rebels and are finishing them off, that the Syrian army has used prohibited chemical weapons,” Putin said.

“They know all too well that this could become a cause for sanctions and even for a military operation against them. That’s stupid and illogical.

“We proceed from the assumption that if anyone has information that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian regular army, then such proof must be presented to the UN Security Council and the UN inspectors,” Putin said, stressing that the proof must be “convincing” and not based on “rumours” or any sort of “eavesdropped intelligence data” .

While the bourgeois media are endlessly repeating the imperialist claims of Syrian government atrocities and poison gas attacks, little or nothing is being said about last week’s Associated Press report that laid the blame on the Nato-backed rebels themselves. According to one of their correspondents the rebels admitted that they were responsible for the poison gas attack which the imperialists have blamed on the Syrian army, revealing that the casualties were the result of an accident caused by rebels mishandling chemical weapons provided to them by Saudi Arabia.

The anti-war movements in Britain, America, France and Turkey have taken to streets in last-ditch efforts to halt the drive to war, heartened by the decision of the British Parliament to rule out any British military role in a US attack on Syria. The Pope has slammed the idea of war against Syria, stressing the need for dialogue and negotiations and Syrian peace campaigners are forming human shields around key areas of Damascus and other Syrian cities that are potential targets.

Now the protests must be stepped up to send a message to Washington that the world will not stand by and let the US plunge the Middle East into a wider war.