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. has said a sarin gas attack killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, based on intelligence reports. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-government activists in Syria, said it has been compiling a list of the names of the dead and that its toll has reached 502.
President Barack Obama said he has decided that the United States should take military action against Syria but is seeking congressional authorization for the use of force in a vote expected after Congress returns to work Sept. 9.
Here’s a look at key Syria developments around the world Wednesday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
RUSSIA • President Vladimir Putin warned the West against taking one-sided action in Syria but also said Russia “doesn’t exclude” supporting a U.N. resolution on punitive military strikes if it is proved that Damascus used poison gas on its own people. In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press and Russia’s state Channel 1 television, Putin said Moscow has provided some components of the S-300 air defense missile system to Syria but has frozen further shipments. He suggested Russia may sell the potent missile systems elsewhere if Western nations attack Syria without U.N. Security Council backing.
SYRIA • A foreign fighter in Syria said jihadis from the Caucasus have formed an independent fighting force. In a video posted online Wednesday by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a man wearing a camouflage uniform is seen standing with other fighters, who he said came to Syria from the Caucasus and Russia to wage jihad. Syrian state media said a member of the national taekwondo team was killed in a mortar attack in Damascus. State news agency SANA said 27-year-old Mohammed Ali Neimeh died when a mortar shell hit a sports hall Wednesday.
UNITED STATES • The Obama administration faced a tough examination of its plans for military strikes in Syria as the debate moves into the opposition-controlled House of Representatives, where significant support the proposal received in the Senate will be harder to find. With Obama in Europe, his top national security aides were expected at public and private hearings at the Capitol to argue for Congress’ authorization for limited strikes against Assad’s regime.
VATICAN • Pope Francis ramped up Vatican opposition to threatened military strikes against Syria. He urged Catholics and non-Catholics to participate in his planned day of fasting and prayer for peace on Saturday, telling more than 50,000 people gathered for his weekly general audience: “Let the cry for peace rise up across the Earth!” In recent speeches, tweets and remarks, Francis has called for a negotiated settlement in Syria but has also condemned the use of chemical weapons.
FRANCE • France’s government will offer a preview Wednesday of what the Obama administration faces next week as French lawmakers debate the wisdom and necessity of a military response to the alleged Syrian regime chemical weapons. President Francois Hollande has a majority in the French parliament, and he neither needs nor wants their vote of approval, unlike Obama. But with the prospect of military action against Assad facing dwindling support internationally, the government has been building its case.
IRAQ • Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned that an outside military strike on neighboring Syria could have unforeseen consequences, and said United Nations inspectors should have a chance to report their findings on allegations of chemical weapons use. He said the world should wait for the results of the probe before the “party responsible is held accountable.” Baghdad is officially neutral in Syria’s civil war, but Iraq’s Shiite-led government fears it could suffer if Syria’s mainly Sunni rebels are victorious.
GERMANY • A German group said an aid worker kidnapped in northern Syria in May is free and has crossed the border into Turkey. The Gruenhelme organization said Ziad Nouri freed himself from his captors. It gave no details but said Nouri crossed into Turkey on Tuesday.