The Associated Press
The United States is considering launching a punitive strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, blamed by the U.S. and the Syrian opposition for an Aug. 21 alleged chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus. The U.S. said the attack killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children. Those numbers are significantly higher than the death toll of 355 provided by the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
President Barack Obama said he has decided that the United States should take military action against Syria but will seek congressional authorization for the use of force.
Here’s a look at key Syria developments around the world Sunday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
A Syrian state-run newspaper said Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval before taking military action against Syria marks “the start of the historic American retreat.” The Al-Thawra daily said in a front-page editorial that Obama’s reluctance to carry out strikes stems from his “sense of implicit defeat and the disappearance of his allies.” Its editorials reflect the thinking of Assad’s regime.
The White House sent Congress a draft of a resolution seeking approval for a military response to “deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade” the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons going forward. The Senate will hold hearings next week so a vote can take place after Congress gets back to work the week of Sept. 9.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was expected to be briefed by the head of the U.N. chemical weapons inspection team, Ake Sellstrom. The team collected samples from alleged chemical weapons attack sites in Syria that are expected to be repackaged in the Netherlands and sent to laboratories around Europe to check them for traces of poison gas. Evidence would have to be analyzed in the laboratories before any report is made to member states. There is no specific time line for how soon the analysis will be completed.
President Francois Hollande’s office said he will wait for the French Parliament and the U.S. Congress to consider possible military action on Syria before making a decision about whether to launch strikes against Assad’s regime. The French Parliament is due to debate Syria on Wednesday, but Hollande does not need its permission to order France to intervene militarily.
Five U.S. Navy destroyers were in the eastern Mediterranean Sea — armed with dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which have a range of about 1,000 nautical miles (1,151 miles, 1,852 kilometers) and are used for precise targeting. Obama announced Friday that “we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.”
Iranian state TV said an Iranian parliamentary delegation in Damascus visited with Syrians allegedly injured in chemical weapons attacks that the Assad regime blames on rebels. They were also expected to meet with the Syrian prime minister and foreign minister.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet his country is ready for “any possible scenario” after Obama put on hold potential military action in Syria. He said Israel’s enemies “have very good reasons not to test our strength.” With the U.S. threatening to strike Syria in response to alleged chemical weapons use, many Israelis fear that Syria might retaliate by attacking across the border at Israel. Israelis again lined up in Tel Aviv to receive free gas masks.
Arab League foreign ministers were scheduled to hold an emergency session in Cairo to discuss Syria. Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy said Cairo rejects military intervention in Syria except under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, whereby it is proven the country has become a danger to international peace and security. He asked for a decision be put off until U.N. investigators report their findings.
Syrian refugees continued crossing the border into Turkey, despite the delay of a possible U.S. military strike targeting Assad’s government. Refugee Mohammed Yaser said arms shipments to rebels would hurt Assad more than a U.S. strike: “If they give us weapons, we can deal with it in one week.”