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 a sarin gas 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 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 Tuesday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
Israel and the U.S. carried out a joint missile test with the U.S. in the Mediterranean Sea as Washington considers sea-launched strikes against Syria. The Israeli Defense Ministry said the test of its Arrow 3 missile-defense system was performed with the U.S. Defense Department. The ministry said the system successfully detected and tracked a medium-range decoy missile that was not carrying a warhead, but did not intercept it.
Obama said Tuesday he is confident Congress will authorize a military strike in Syria, as lawmakers held their first public hearing about how to respond to the alleged gas attack. Obama met with congressional leaders at the White House as part of his push to win over support for his request for authorization for limited military strikes. He indicated he is open to changing language to address lawmakers’ concerns, but urged them to hold a prompt vote.
President Francois Hollande said he will wait for a decision from the U.S. Congress on possible military action in Syria and insisted France won’t strike against Bashar Assad’s regime alone. The French leader and Obama have been the two most outspoken world leaders on the need to respond to the suspected chemical weapons attack.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime troops recaptured the town of Ariha, a busy commercial center in the restive northern province of Idlib, following days of heavy bombardment. The group obtains information from a network of anti-regime activists. State-run Syrian news agency SANA said rebels detonated a bomb along a gas pipeline near the northeastern town of Deir el-Zour.
The U.N. refugee agency said more than 2 million refugees have fled Syria’s violence in an exodus that shows no sign of letting up and could destabilize neighboring countries. Antonio Guterres, head of the Office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Geneva that an average of almost 5,000 citizens a day are flowing out of Syria, many of them with little more than the clothes they are wearing.
The news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) believes Assad’s regime was behind the attacks. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a united international response to the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria is unlikely but “the smallest chance” must be used to achieve one. Germany has said it won’t participate in any military intervention. It is pushing for action by the long-deadlocked U.N. Security Council.
Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo said any military intervention against Syria would be seen as a violation of international law unless the U.N. Security Council gives approval or if the intervention is for self-defense coupled with a U.N. resolution. He said late Monday that those scenarios are “not what we have today.”