DAMASCUS/ BRUNEI - Syria vowed Tuesday to defend itself as the US defence chief said his country’s forces were ‘ready’ to launch attacks against the Syrian regime, accused of deadly chemical weapons attacks.

Russia on Tuesday warned a military intervention in Syria could have “catastrophic consequences” for the region and called on the international community to show “prudence” over the crisis.

“Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” a foreign ministry spokesman said. A Russian deputy prime minister said Western countries were behaving in the Islamic world like a ‘monkey with a grenade’.

During a defiant news conference, Syria Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Damascus would defend itself against any strikes.

Muallem said Syria had capabilities that would “surprise” the world, and warned that any military action against it would serve the interests of Israel and Al-Qaeda. The Washington Post reported that President Barack Obama was weighing limited military strikes on targets in Syria.

Such action would probably last no more than two days and involve missiles or long-range bombers, striking military targets not directly related to Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, the newspaper cited senior administration officials as saying.

Speaking in Brunei, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the military was prepared to act if Obama called for it.

“We are prepared. We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” he said.

“We are ready to go, like that.”

He said the US will soon share evidence that Syria unleashed chemical weapons on its own people.

The US Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea within range of targets inside Syria. The US also has warplanes in the region. Italy, however, ruled out taking part in any type of military intervention without UN Security Council approval, saying there was no alternative to ‘a negotiated political solution’.

Nevertheless, senior military officers from Western and Muslim countries began gathering in Jordan on Monday to discuss the regional impact of the war in Syria. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to take part, along with chiefs of staff from Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada, Jordanian state media said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country will strike back ‘fiercely; if Syria attacks the Jewish state.

Amman has said, however, that its territory “will not be used as (a) launchpad for any military action against Damascus”.

In another development Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday recalled Parliament for an urgent discussion and vote on a possible military response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria.

Cameron said the crisis session will be held Thursday, when Parliament would traditionally be on its summer recess.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense also said that a planned Royal Air Force training mission involving British Typhoon fighter jets has been postponed. The jets were to have been deployed on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

Britain said its armed forces were drawing up contingency plans for action in Syria and Foreign Secretary William Hague said the West could act even without full Security Council backing.

Saudi Arabia called for ‘firm and serious’ action against the Syrian regime for its alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21. Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the suspected chemical attack was a “crime against humanity” that “cannot go unpunished”.

Meanwhile, UN chemical weapons experts postponed efforts to collect more evidence from the site of alleged attacks on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21 in which more than 300 people were reportedly killed.

They had been due to visit the sites again on Tuesday, but Muallem said their trip had been put off because rebels failed to guarantee their security. The increasing signs of impending military action sparked losses on global stock markets.

Separately, other Western powers have told the Syrian opposition to expect a strike against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces within days, according to sources who attended a meeting between envoys and the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul. “The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva,” one of the sources who was at the meeting on Monday told Reuters.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said the world should remember the Iraq war was started by US allegations of weapons of mass destruction which turned out to be false.