UNITED NATIONS - The UN’s secretary general has said the Cold War is “back with a vengeance”, BBC reported on Friday.

Antonio Guterres also warned about the dangers of escalation over Syria.

The US and its allies are considering launching missile strikes against Syria after a suspected chemical attack, an action which Russia - whose forces are there supporting the government- has said would risk starting a war.

Russia has accused the UK of faking an attack, an allegation Britain dismissed as a “grotesque, blatant lie”.

The Cold War , which followed the Allied victory in World War Two, saw the US and its allies facing off for decades with the Soviet Union, of which Russia is the main successor state.

Russia warned the West not to make any “dangerous” moves against its ally Bashar al-Assad’s regime and claimed to have proof that the attack had been staged by rescue workers acting on Britain’s behalf.

Experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are on their way to Syria to probe the alleged chlorine strike on the then rebel-held suburb of Douma, which took place nearly a week ago.

But, with the British government now estimating that the death toll from the attack has risen to 75, US President Donald Trump and other western leaders are contemplating punitive military action.

This would increase the risk of a clash with the Russian forces in Syria to defend Assad, and UN chief Antonio Guterres warned the Security Council to beware a “full-blown military escalation.”

But France’s UN ambassador Francois Delattre told the council that in choosing once again to use banned chemical weapons against civilians, Assad’s regime had “reached a point of no-return.”

And US ambassador Nikki Haley, while allowing that Washington is still weighing its options and pursuing its own investigation, warned her colleagues, “At one point, you have to do something.”

Britain was behind alleged chemical attack: Moscow

The Russian military on Friday said it had proof that an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta was staged on orders from London.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said the military had “proof that testifies to the direct participation of Britain in the organising of this provocation in Eastern Ghouta.”

He said Britain had told the White Helmets, who act as first responders in rebel-held areas, to fake the suspected chemical attack in the town of Douma.

Russia, in addition to tossing out unproven allegations against Britain, alleged the West was feigning outrage over the attack as a cover for a plan to overthrow Assad’s government.

“We continue to observe dangerous military preparations for an illegal act of force against a sovereign state,” Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council.

Tension between Russia and the West came amid signs the parallel conflict between Israel and Iran’s forces and proxies in Syria is also on the point of escalation.

Western powers make case for military action

The United States, Britain and France made the case at the United Nations on Friday for military action against Syria.

“Our president has not yet made a decision about possible action in Syria,” Haley told a Security Council meeting. “But should the United States and our allies decide to act in Syria, it will be in defense of a principle on which we all agree.”

Citing US estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons “at least 50 times” in the seven-year war, Haley said: “All nations and all people will be harmed if we allow Assad to normalize the use of chemical weapons.”

Israel in ‘direct

combat’ with Iran

Earlier this week, Israel bombed a Syrian airbase used by Assad’s regional allies, killing at least seven Iranians, and prompting threats from Tehran and its Lebanese militia ally Hezbollah.

“The Israelis carried out a historic mistake ... and put themselves in direct combat with Iran,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned on Friday in a televised address.

But the growing fears of escalation appear to have given western leaders food for thought.

After warning in a belligerent tweet earlier this week that “missiles are coming,” Trump has backed off from talk of imminent action and is meeting with military commanders to look at options.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, on Friday called for stepped-up talks with Moscow and spoke to President Vladimir Putin by phone.

“The most important thing is to refrain from ill-considered and dangerous actions that would constitute a gross violation of the UN Charter and would have unpredictable consequences,” the Kremlin said.

Macron claimed in a TV interview Thursday that he had “proof” that Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons and vowed a response “in due course.”

But he also appeared anxious to avoid a wider conflict, saying France would “in no way allow an escalation.”

Western officials believe chlorine was used in the April 7 attack on Douma, the main city in the former rebel bastion of Eastern Ghouta.

What is less clear is whether sarin, the agent used in a chemical attack that prompted US missile strikes last year, was also used.

Russia, which has stonewalled diplomatic efforts at the UN Security Council, has vehemently denied a chemical attack took place.

OPCW inspectors are expected to arrive in Syria at the weekend to investigate, following an invitation from Damascus.

Diplomats have expressed concern that the experts could be used as hostages or human shields.

Since last weekend, when images of ashen toddlers struggling for breath emerged, there has been a sustained military buildup in the eastern Mediterranean.

A French frigate, British Royal Navy submarines and the USS Donald Cook, an American destroyer equipped with Tomahawk land attack missiles, have all moved into range of Syria’s coast.

US officials have refused to rule out direct military engagement with Russia.

On the ground, rebels and civilians were evacuating from Douma on Friday after anti-regime fighters in Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons and their leader left the enclave.

This signalled the end of one of the bloodiest assaults of the seven-year war and a major win for the Assad regime.