The UN Security Council will vote on Tuesday on rival US and Russian draft resolutions in response to an alleged chemical attack in Syria, setting up a clash as the threat of US military action loomed large.

The council will meet at 3:00pm (1900 GMT) for a first vote on a US proposal to set up an inquiry to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but the measure is likely to face a veto from Russia, diplomats said.

Russia has also asked for a vote on a separate draft text presented in January that calls for an inquiry, but Western powers have already dismissed that measure as biased in favour of Damascus.

In a surprise move, Russia put forward a second draft resolution backing the deployment of investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to Syria, according to the text seen by AFP.

Russia and Syria have called for the OPCW to send its experts to the rebel-held town of Douma, where toxic gas was allegedly used in an attack on Saturday that killed dozens.

Diplomats said allowing OPCW experts to carry out a fact-finding mission could be aimed at heading off Western military strikes.

The OPCW, however, does not have a mandate to identify those responsible for chemical attacks, a task that the United States wants to confer to its proposed panel.

Threat of military action

The US-Russia showdown at the Security Council comes amid warnings from President Donald Trump that there will be a “big price to pay” for the alleged attack in Douma.

During a stormy council meeting on Monday, US Ambassador Nikki Haley called for action to address chemical weapons use in Syria and warned that the United States was ready to respond, with or without the United Nations.

“We have reached the moment when the world must see justice done,” Haley said.

“History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria,” she added.

“Either way, the United States will respond.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia warned that US military action in Syria could lead to “grave repercussions.” “From what we hear now, I am afraid they are looking for a military option, which is very, very dangerous,” Nebenzia said.

A draft resolution requires nine votes to be adopted in the 15-member council and no vetoes from the five permanent members ─ Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

Russia has used its veto power 11 times at the council to block action targeting its Syrian ally.

The United States is proposing to establish the new panel for one year to work with the OPCW to identify perpetrators, reviving the work of a previous panel that ended in November when Russia vetoed the renewal of its mandate.

That panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), had found that the Syrian air force had dropped sarin on the village of Khan Sheikhun in April of last year.

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