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Syria dismisses Obama as confused, moves troops

By Albert Aji & Karin Laub

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 11:45 a.m. HST, Sep 01, 2013

DAMASCUS, Syria >> Syria derided President Barack Obama's decision to hold off on punitive military strikes, but also took precautions by reportedly moving some troops and military equipment to civilian areas.

The Obama administration countered that its case for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is getting stronger, saying it now has evidence that the toxic gas allegedly used in strikes on rebel-held areas was the nerve agent sarin.

The administration predicted today it will obtain congressional backing for limited strikes. After days of edging closer to military action against Syria, Obama suddenly announced Saturday he would first seek approval from Congress, which gets back from summer break Sept. 9.

Assad, in turn, tried to project confidence in his escalating showdown with the U.S., saying in comments carried by state media today that Syria is "capable of confronting any external aggression."

From the sidelines, others exhorted the U.S. either to get involved or stay out of the brutal two-and-a-half-year-old conflict that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions of people.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he would stage a worldwide prayer vigil for Syria on Sept. 7 and called on all sides to lay down their arms.

"My heart is deeply wounded by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments" on the horizon, Francis told crowds in St. Peter's Square, forgoing the usual religious theme of his weekly address.

The main Syrian political opposition, which operates largely from exile, warned that Obama would give dictators in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere a free pass to commit atrocities if he does not punish Assad.

In the Syrian capital Damascus, some said the reprieve from Washington was only prolonging their torment.

A 29-year-old city resident said he reinforced his window with tape in anticipation of an imminent attack.

"I know people who prepared sleeping pills to give to their kids the night of the attack so they can sleep and not be scared," said the man, who only gave his first name, Nasib, for fear of reprisals.

Nearly two weeks after the alleged chemical weapons attacks on areas east and west of Damascus, many unanswered questions remain.

Neither the U.S. nor the Syrian regime, which blames rebels for the attacks, has publicly presented proof.

Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faysal Mikdad, claimed Sunday that Obama stepped back from his threat to attack because he lacks evidence of Syrian government involvement in the Aug. 21 attacks.

"The hesitation and the disappointment is so obvious in the words of President Obama yesterday," Mikdad told reporters in Damascus. "The confusion was clear as well."

In a sharply worded front-page article, the state-run newspaper Al-Thawra, expressing official thinking, said Obama's turn-about on military action was "the start of the historic American retreat."

Yet despite the official hubris, there were signs the regime was taking precautions.

The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said the army moved troops as well as rocket launchers, artillery and other heavy weapons inside residential neighborhoods in cities nationwide. The coalition said Assad ordered detainees to be moved to military targets for use as human shields against U.S. strikes.

Three Damascus residents, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed such movements.

One man said two members of the elite Republican Guards broke into an empty house he owns, showing him an official paper stating they were authorized to do so because Syria is at war. He said he bribed the soldiers and they left. A woman in another area said soldiers moved into a school next to her house and she was terrified.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tried to sharpen the arguments for military action Sunday in a serious of appearances on television news shows.

Kerry said he expected American lawmakers to recognize that the "credibility of the United States is on the line."

He said President Barack Obama has the authority to launch retaliatory strikes with or without Congress' approval, but Kerry stopped short of saying the president would do so if the House or Senate withholds support.

"The stakes are just really too high here," Kerry said. "We are not going to lose this vote."

A White House draft resolution asks Congress to authorize force to "deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade" the Assad regime's ability to use chemical weapons. It doesn't lay out a timeline for action.

Kerry also said the United States has received hair and blood samples from first responders indicating that Syria's government forces used sarin in the Aug. 21 attacks. It was the first piece of specific physiological evidence cited by the administration.

Previously, the U.S. only said regime troops fired rockets carrying an unnamed nerve agent at the Damascus suburbs, killing at least 1,429 civilians, including more than 400 children.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that collects information from a network of anti-regime activists in Syria, has said it has only been able to confirm the names of 502 dead. It has challenged the U.S. to release the information that led to the higher toll.

Obama has said that in making his final decision, he will not wait for findings by U.N. chemical weapons experts who collected biological and soil samples in the stricken areas near Damascus last week.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon asked the head of the team on Sunday to expedite the testing of the samples and report back to him as soon as possible, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

The samples will be sent Monday to laboratories around Europe, he said, adding that he could not say when the results will be in.

Ban has said no action should be taken before the U.N. team has presented its findings. However, U.S. officials have argued that there is no doubt chemical weapons were used, and that it's not part of the U.N. inspectors' mandate to determine who fired them.

In Cairo, the 22-state Arab League was holding an emergency session on Syria. The Saudi Arabian foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, prodded member states to back international measures against the Syrian regime to "deter this aggression by all possible means."

If the world does nothing, the Syrian regime will be encouraged to "go on with its crimes," he said.

However, it appeared unlikely the League would back Western military action, since key members, including Egypt, are opposed.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country is ready for "any possible scenario," a reference to fears of Syrian reprisals against Israel in the event of a U.S. strike on the Assad regime.

Netanyahu did not address Obama's latest decisions, but media commentators and hard-line politicians said the U.S. president appeared indecisive.


Laub reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Yasmine Saker and Ryan Lucas in Beirut, Maria Sanminiatelli at the United Nations, Sara El Deeb in Cairo and Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.

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Grimbold wrote:
In what way is Sarin more harmful than being shredded by conventional waepons? A mild dose is not even deadly.
on September 1,2013 | 07:27AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
A single shell of sarin gas is capable of killing thousands of people under certain circumstances. A conventional munition shell will only kill within a certain radius of where it lands.
on September 1,2013 | 10:53AM
HD36 wrote:
I guess nuclear bombs are ok then?
on September 1,2013 | 07:21PM
noheawilli wrote:
Well if the imperial presidency has made his decision then why is he asking congress? What a politician
on September 1,2013 | 08:20AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
Obama is not Bush.
on September 1,2013 | 10:56AM
eoe wrote:
thank g o d
on September 1,2013 | 03:56PM
HD36 wrote:
There are forces such as the Federal Reserve, which control the government, wether republican or democrat. These private banking cartesl , who own the Federal Reserve don't care who does what, all they care about is making more money.
on September 1,2013 | 07:25PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Americans do not want to get involved.

How hard is it for these guys to understand that? Do what the people who elected you want.

on September 1,2013 | 08:34AM
fiveo wrote:
Yes, Sarin gas was used but the real question of relevance that Obama has not been able to determine is by who??. According to Sec of State Kerry, it does not matter who used the gas. Really?? This suggests that the Obama Administration is just looking for any excuse to bomb Syria on the side of the so called opposition to Assad who at this point are largely fighters allied with Al Qaeda, Jabhat Al Musra (Al Queda fighters from Iraq) and members of the Muslim Brotherhood. What is going on here? We fought these guys in Iraq and are still fighting them in Afganistan. Why would we be on their side in Syria? The other question: Yes Assad is a bad actor. You get rid of him, then what? Who or what replaces him?? My guess is it will be Al Qaeda and their associates who are genocidal psychos who will then impose sharia law and kill any who oppose them. Bottom line: The US has no national security interest in attacking Syria. We will just create a greater mess than we have already caused in the Middle East.
on September 1,2013 | 08:51AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
The Arab league should be leading the response to the use of chemical weapons by one of their own member states.
on September 1,2013 | 11:05AM
HD36 wrote:
Yes but if we go to war the US will be in debt to the private, Federal Reserve Bank for $1 billion a day.
on September 1,2013 | 07:33PM
mitt_grund wrote:
America is showing a clear reluctance to get involved. Britain displayed a similar reluctance in Parliament's turning down of British intervention. Major case point: Assad, whatever his murderous use of sarin gas may be, has supported Syrian Christians and guaranteed their safety in an unsafe part of the world for Christians. The people he is accused of gassing are only Muslims, and therefore clearly not people Christian Americans wish to see live to terrorize us at a future time. In such cases, genocide is easy to overlooked, perhaps, by some Americans, considered warranted. They are happy to see all those dead children.

Now, if it were a matter of oil or other resource that Americans value more than Muslim lives, now, that would warrant war. Bomb the b********!!! So, perhaps, Obama and Kerry should make the case for oil - you know, support Shell, BP, and all the ususal oil-suckers. It worked for the Bushes who had personal interests in oil. How much oil does Syria produce? Wait a minute, the US is sitting on oil reserves that will last centuries!!! Sand, we need sand to produce silicon chips!!!

on September 1,2013 | 09:45AM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
It's a tough decision, it's difficult to sit back and watch people get gassed by a dictator trying to hold onto power however the rebels fighting him are made up largely of terrorists who hate the US and would do us harm if given the opportunity. Both are considered enemies of the US to varying degree.Which is the lesser evil? Or does it even matter? Absent a mandate from the UN or Nato, we should stay out of it and let the Muslim world sort it out.
on September 1,2013 | 10:37AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Thing is, the USA plan is to have a minimum amount of involvement just to re-assert the "red line" against chemical weapons. Not toss Assad out. Not bring the misery to an end. Not actually bring about better living for the people. Just re-assert the red line.

And then we go and tell Assad what we will do and probably when. This is crazier than a game of wak-a-mole.

I agree, we should stay away.

on September 1,2013 | 12:23PM
jussayin wrote:
US should stay out of it. Obama drew the stupid line in the sand so now he feels he's on the hook to do something. But although he's the Commander in Chief, he wants Congress to back him in case the public doesn't support him. Tired of the US being in everyone's business.
on September 1,2013 | 04:40PM
Ronin006 wrote:
It is not a tough decision. Just leave it to Allah.
on September 1,2013 | 08:19PM
sailfish1 wrote:
The article says that even the Arab League will NOT support "Western military action". So, what's the point when the people closest to the problem don't want help. The U.S. should just back off and let it unfold however it may. In retrospect, the U.S. should have backed off in many of our military actions in the past.
on September 1,2013 | 01:10PM
justchecking wrote:
sailfish1 - good points!
on September 1,2013 | 02:42PM
Kokoy wrote:
Have you seen the pictures and videos on CNN of all those children dying from Sarin? We have an obligation to protect them.
on September 1,2013 | 03:10PM
2Lolo wrote:
Whenever I see the chaos of war on CNN, I know its propaganda they're shilling. I watched Zbigniew Brzezinski on Fareed Zakaria this morning, supporting OB for more violence in Syria. ZB founded the CIA org known as al-Qaeda with their operative Osama Bin Laden aka Tim Osmon. Anyone believing all the lies coming from the Kerry, John McCain, Phil Lieberman, CNN and their foreign correspondents,your esteemed Prezz A-daynt, is a fool, and probably has brains the size of a 5-year-old child.
on September 1,2013 | 04:17PM
Charliegrunt wrote:
The President blew it, again! Have any of his advisers discussed CONTINGENCY PLANS? Does he have any CONTINGENCY PLANS? You know, like, if so and so does this or that, this is what we will do. These CONTINGENCY PLANS would be based on STRATEGIC PLANS, based on what is best for our national interest, and include an END GAME that defines what our country hopes to achieve. It seems that the problem is that this President surrounds himself with people who share his opinion rather than those who can best advise him in the best interest of our country.
on September 1,2013 | 03:34PM
2Lolo wrote:
The Nazis brought the Germans their own very special False Flag, the Reichstag fire. Hitler would be so proud of Obama & his assembly.
on September 1,2013 | 04:25PM
false wrote:
How will our Hawaii congressional members vote? Wimpy Brian is tagging along with Obama as usual, feisty Colleen is against . The other two are still asleep. The general public seems against getting involved. Meanwhile, Obama is already planning on another Hawaiian vacation. Guaranteed he'll never do that if he had to pay out of his pocket.
on September 1,2013 | 03:51PM
kumasachi wrote:
Obama is leading from behind and Brian is supporting him. Colleen has more cajones than Mr. Shatz!
on September 1,2013 | 04:46PM
bumba wrote:
Find out where Assad is and nuke the whole area. Problem solved. Then go in and take the oil. All the bleeding hearts will make a lot of noise but nobody's going to do a thing about it.
on September 1,2013 | 04:57PM
HD36 wrote:
Russa and China might do something.
on September 1,2013 | 07:36PM
jayz43 wrote:
"Comment had been sent for approval". LOL!
on September 1,2013 | 07:33PM
jussayin wrote:
Obama IS confused. That's a fact. He forgot that he's not talking to the American people (who smile and say, you da man ... then forget what he said a few days later) when he made the bold statement to Syria. Now he's stuck in the mud that he created. Obama said don't cross this line. Oops, they crossed it. Now what do I do. Hmmm, two weeks later, I'll ask Congress. BTW, some of the rebels which US is backing have ties to al-Qaeda {reference: Time magazine).
on September 1,2013 | 09:31PM
SteveToo wrote:
At a Million 1/2 per Tomahawk I hope we don't fire more than one. Better yet let them keep killing each other.
on September 1,2013 | 09:58PM
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