BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Thursday that Syria would defend itself against any aggression following reports that the United States and its allies were preparing military action in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack.

"The threats of direct aggression against Syria will only increase our commitment to our deep-rooted principles and the independent will of our people. Syria will defend itself in the face of any aggression," state television quoted Assad as telling a delegation of Yemeni politicians.

Meanwhile, Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi called on Thursday for mobilizing national resources to preserve essential state services in the case of a military attack by the United States and its Western allies in the coming days.

Washington and close allies are publicly raising the prospect of military action in Syria as punishment for what they say was an apparent poison gas attack by government forces in a rebel-held area on Aug. 21 that killed hundreds of civilians.

Al-Halqi said the steps he was calling for were necessary "to overcome any emergency situation and prevent enemies from disrupting state services, especially electricity, drinking water, communications, food and oil," according to a statement from SANA, Syria's state news agency.

"The government strives to secure supplies of food, medicine and services," said al-Halqi. "There is a strategic supply of all materials, and the bakeries are continuing to operate around the clock to meet citizens' needs."

He commented during a meeting of government ministers and regional governors convened to discuss readiness plans for government agencies that provide such services.

Rebels hold much of Syria's north and east while the government retains control of most major cities.

"We will resist any attempted sabotage by enemies of the state," said al-Halqi.

President Bashar Assad, facing a 2 1/2-year-old armed revolt, has flatly denied Western accusations that his forces resorted to chemical weapons in last week's attack, instead blaming the rebels. They deny any responsibility.

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