PARIS— The United States found itself Friday with France as its only major partner in a potential strike against Syria, after a stunning rejection of military force in Parliament forced Britain, America's staunchest ally, to pull out of any operation.
The collapse of British support for a mission to punish Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons puts pressure on President Barack Obama as resistance grows at home — and comes with the irony that France was the most vocal critic of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
French President Francois Hollande pledged backing for a potential American operation to hit the Damascus regime.
"The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished," Hollande said in an interview published Friday by the newspaper Le Monde, as U.N. experts in Damascus began what is expected to be the last day of their probe into the alleged attack.
Amid the turmoil of a British "no" and mounting American skepticism, Obama appeared undeterred in his desire to punish Syrian leader Bashar Assad, and advisers said he would be willing to retaliate against Syria on his own.
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."
On Thursday, the U.S. administration shared intelligence with lawmakers in an effort to persuade them that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its people.
In Damascus, shops and supermarkets filled with people stocking up on bread, canned food and other necessities ahead of the expected strikes, although there appeared to be no signs of panic or food shortages. Prices have shot up because of the high demand, residents complained.