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 Thursday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
Leaders at the forefront of the geopolitical standoff over Syria’s civil war gathered in St. Petersburg and started the two-day meeting of the Group of 20 leading world economies, with the threat of missiles over the Mediterranean eclipsing economic issues that usually dominate the gathering. Differences over Syria have heightened tensions between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin since the civil war there started more than two years ago.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the U.S. should wait for the report of U.N. inspectors who investigated a chemical attack in Syria before intervening militarily, adding that Washington’s evidence of the Syrian regime’s involvement isn’t strong enough. He insisted the U.N. Security Council is the sole body that can authorize the use of force. The Kremlin’s chief of staff said Russia has been sending warships to the Mediterranean Sea for possible evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria. Sergei Ivanov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying Russia boosted its naval “primarily” to organize a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria.
Syrian government troops battled al-Qaida-linked rebels over a regime-held Christian village in western Syria for the second day. Residents of Maaloula said the militants entered the village late Wednesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, said the fighters included members of the of al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group.
Obama pressed skeptical lawmakers in phone calls from St. Petersburg to give him the authority to use U.S. military force against Syria while the administration. Obama’s advisers were pressing Congress in closed-door meetings for authorization of a military strike on Syria.
From St. Petersburg, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the situation in Syria has “no military solution. There is only a political solution which can bring peace and end this bloodshed right now.”
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy said urged U.N. investigators to release information as soon as possible about a chemical weapons attack in Syria so the international community can decide how to respond. Rompuy said in St. Petersburg that the attack “was a blatant violation of international law and a crime against humanity.” He said it is too early for a military response,
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, warned a U.S. strike on Syria’s atomic facilities might result in a nuclear catastrophe and urged the U.N.’s nuclear agency to present a risk analysis of such a scenario. Gill Tudor, spokeswoman for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said the IAEA is ready to “consider the questions raised” by Lukashevich if it receives a formal request from Moscow.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she doubts world leaders can agree on what to do about Syria’s civil war despite frenzied diplomatic efforts because of disagreement over who was responsible for the poison gas attack. She said: “I do not believe yet that we will reach a joint position.”
Pope Francis urged world leaders to abandon the “futile pursuit” of a military solution in Syria and work instead for dialogue and negotiation to end the conflict. In a letter to Putin, the pope lamented that “one-sided interests” had prevailed in Syria. He said those interests have prevented a peaceful solution and allowed the continued “senseless massacre” of innocents.
China warned of global economic risks linked to a potential U.S.-led military intervention in Syria’s civil war. Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao says such “military action would definitely have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price.”
An international aid group that supports doctors in war zones said one of its Syrian surgeons was killed in an attack the northern Syrian province of Aleppo. Dr. Muhammad Abyad, 28, had been working in an Aleppo hospital run by the group also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said from Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, that any strike against Syria would not need NATO’s command and control system because it would probably be “”a short, targeted, tailored military operation.” NATO has already said it would defend Turkey in case the member state was attacked as part of the Syria crisis.