Today was the last day in Syria for a team of U.N. inspectors tasked with finding evidence from the chemical attack last week near Damascus. But it looks like their departure will happen a bit sooner than planned. The last inspectors still in the country were supposed to take off at 7 a.m. Syria time on Saturday. Now, however, they're leaving at 4 a.m. on Saturday, according to CBS. That's about 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Friday evening.
The Saturday departure is already one day ahead of schedule. On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon ordered the 20-person team of inspectors to depart the country by Saturday, and report directly to him. The move could well be in response to the U.S.'s continued build-up to a "limited" military retaliation against Syria. Many on the team of inspectors have already left the country. Now, the UN will turn their attention to analyzing the samples collected by inspectors. That process could take at least a week, though Ban Ki-Moon will get an initial briefing this weekend. The inspectors are not looking for evidence on who carried out the attack. The U.N. will reportedly hold a 12:30 press briefing Saturday afternoon.
Citing correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, CBS explains why the new 4 a.m. departure is so strange: "[it] is an odd time to travel," they write, "because the route the inspectors are taking - the road to Beirut - is known to be dangerous." While they don't have a solid reason to report for the change of plans, CBS notes that "it does seem to be a last-minute and extraordinary decision."
While the U.K, along with the U.N., is not on board with the U.S.'s reported plans to carry out a retaliatory military action against Syria without the U.N. report, the Obama administration has made it clear that it believes it has all the evidence needed to prove that the chemical attack happened, and that the government of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for carrying it out. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke shortly after a release of intelligence summary from the administration on Friday, laying out the administration's case for Assad's culpability in the deaths of what the government estimates at 1,429 people. With the evidence released and Congress "consulted," the U.S. seems willing to go ahead with a military response even without international support (though it seems to have France's). Beyond Obama's announcement of whatever decision he's prepared to make on Syria, it looks like there's little left on the adminstration's "to do" list before moving ahead.