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Syrians bracing for possible U.S. strike

By David Espo & Elaine Ganley

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:51 p.m. HST, Aug 30, 2013

WASHINGTON >> Edging toward a punitive strike against Syria, President Barack Obama said today he is weighing "limited and narrow" action as the administration bluntly accused Bashar Assad's government of launching a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 1,429 people -- far more than previous estimates -- including more than 400 children.

No "boots on the ground," Obama said, seeking to reassure Americans weary after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With France as his only major public ally, Obama told reporters he has a strong preference for multilateral action. He added, "Frankly, part of the challenge we end up with here is a lot of people think something should be done but nobody wants to do it."

Halfway around the world, U.S. warships were in place in the Mediterranean Sea. They carried cruise missiles, long a first-line weapon of choice for presidents because they can find a target hundreds of miles distant without need of air cover or troops on the ground.

In what appeared increasingly like the pre-attack endgame, U.N. personnel dispatched to Syria carried out a fourth and final day of inspection as they sought to determine precisely what happened in last week's attack. The international contingent arranged to depart on Saturday and head to laboratories in Europe with the samples they have collected.

Video said to be taken at the scene shows victims writhing in pain, twitching and exhibiting other symptoms associated with exposure to nerve agents. The videos distributed by activists to support their claims of a chemical attack were consistent with Associated Press reporting of shelling in the suburbs of Damascus at the time, though it was not known if the victims had died from a poisonous gas attack.

The Syrian government said administration claims were "flagrant lies" akin to faulty Bush administration assertions before the Iraq invasion that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. A Foreign Ministry statement read on state TV said that "under the pretext of protecting the Syrian people, they are making a case for an aggression that will kill hundreds of innocent Syrian civilians."

Residents of Damascus stocked up on food and other necessities in anticipation of strikes, with no evident sign of panic. One man, 42-year-old Talal Dowayih, said: "I am not afraid from the Western threats to Syria; they created the chemical issue as a pretext for intervention, and they are trying to hit Syria for the sake of Israel."

Obama met with his national security aides at the White House and then with diplomats from Baltic countries, saying he has not yet made a final decision on a response to the attack.

But the administration did nothing to discourage the predictions that he would act -- and soon. It was an impression heightened both by strongly worded remarks from Secretary of State John Kerry and the release of an unclassified intelligence assessment that cited "high confidence" that the Syrian government carried out the attack.

In addition to the dead, the assessment reported that about 3,600 patients "displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure" were seen at Damascus-area hospitals after the attack. To that, Kerry added that "a senior regime official who knew about the attack confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the regime, reviewed the impact and actually was afraid they would be discovered." He added for emphasis: "We know this."

The assessment did not explain its unexpectedly large casualty count, far in excess of an estimate from Doctors Without Borders. Not surprisingly -- given the nature of the disclosure -- it also did not say expressly how the United States knew what one Syrian official had allegedly said to another.

Mindful of public opinion, Kerry urged Americans to read the four-page assessment for themselves. He referred to Iraq -- when Bush administration assurances that weapons of mass destruction were present proved false, and a U.S. invasion led to a long, deadly war. Kerry said this time it will be different.

"We will not repeat that moment," he said.

Citing an imperative to act, the nation's top diplomat said "it is directly related to our credibility and whether countries still believe the United States when it says something. They are watching to see if Syria can get away with it because then maybe they, too, can put the world at greater risk."

The president said firmly that the attack "threatens our national security interest by violating well-established international norms."

While Obama was having trouble enlisting foreign support, French President Francois Hollande was an exception. The two men spoke by phone, then Hollande issued a statement saying they had "agreed that the international community cannot tolerate the use of chemical weapons, that it must hold the Syrian regime responsible and send a strong message to denounce the use of (such) arms."

The day's events produced sharply differing responses from members of Congress -- and that was just the Republicans.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Obama needed to go further than he seems planning. "The goal of military action should be to shift the balance of power on the battlefield against Assad and his forces," they said in a statement.

But a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, Brendan Buck, said if the president believes in a military response to Syria, "it is his responsibility to explain to Congress and the American people the objectives, strategy, and legal basis for any potential action."

The looming confrontation is the latest outgrowth of a civil war in which Assad has tenaciously -- and brutally -- clung to power. An estimated 100,000 civilians have been killed in more than two years, many of them from attacks by the Syrian government on its own citizens.

Obama has long been wary of U.S. military involvement in the struggle, as he has been with turbulent events elsewhere during the so-called Arab Spring. In this case, reluctance stems in part from recognition that while Assad has ties to Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah, the rebels seeking to topple him have connections with al-Qaida terrorist groups.

Still, Obama declared more than a year ago that the use of chemical weapons would amount to a "red line" that Assad should not cross. And Obama approved the shipment of small weapons and ammunition to the Syrian rebels after an earlier reported chemical weapons attack, although there is little sign that the equipment has arrived.

With memories of the long Iraq war still fresh, the political crosscurrents have been intense both domestically and overseas.

Dozens of lawmakers, most of them Republican, have signed a letter saying Obama should not take military action without congressional approval, and top leaders of both political parties are urging the president to consult more closely with Congress before giving an order to launch hostilities.

Despite the urgings, there has been little or no discussion about calling Congress back into session to debate the issue. Lawmakers have been on a summer break for nearly a month, and are not due to return to the Capitol until Sept. 9. Obama has not sought a vote of congressional approval for any military action. And congressional leaders of either political party have not challenged his authority to act or sought to have lawmakers called into session before he does.

Obama's efforts to put together an international coalition to support military action have been more down than up.

Hollande has endorsed punitive strikes, and told the newspaper Le Monde that the "chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished."

But British Prime Minister David Cameron's attempt to win a vote of approval in Parliament for military action ended in ignominious defeat on Thursday. American attempts to secure backing at the United Nations have been blocked by Russia, long an ally of Syria.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged a delay in any military action until the inspectors can present their findings to U.N. member states and the Security Council.


Ganley reported from Paris. AP writers Angela Charlton in Paris, Zeina Karam in Beirut, Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Julie Pace, Josh Lederman, Donna Cassata, Matthew Lee, Lolita C. Baldor and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.



U.S. government assessment of Syrian attack: http://apne.ws/14etnyn

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NuuanuMama wrote:
And how many innocents will a U.S. bomb strike kill?
on August 30,2013 | 09:02AM
pcman wrote:
IRT Nuuanu on bomb strike. Thousands. Missiles and bombs do not discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. We might have accurate GPS coordinates on certain targets, like chemical command and control, chemical weapon production plants, etc., but there could very well be schools, hospitals, nurseries, homes for the aged, etc, above or under the chemical targets, all with the same coordinates. The same applies to SAM and AAA sites that may protect chemical facilities against air attacks.
on August 30,2013 | 09:57AM
inverse wrote:
Yes. Doesn't matter how accurate a US cruise missiles are, the Syrians like the Iraqis and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan will force woman and children to leave near/at their weapons depot that the US wants to target. More and more it is looking like Obama wants to attack Syria to SAVE FACE. The Syrian leadership have denied responsibility of using chemical weapons and it just might be TRUE that Assad does NOT have full control of his military with rogue factions using the weapons, Assad does NOT need to use chemical weapons; he can effectively exterminate his own people with conventional weapons. It would be a monumental mistake to think that lobbing in cruise missiles will result in a "clean" strike. This will turn Syria into Libya and Egypt and further destabilize the regions AND create the rallying point for ALL Muslims throughout the world that US is the bully and the common enemy. More Major Hasan's of Ft Hood will spring up and another highly trained/disciplined well financed 9/11 crew will attack the US, but this time with a nu clear weapon
on August 30,2013 | 11:23AM
allie wrote:
agree. Assad is horrible but so was Cheney. Our limited strike is useless. Please use every effort to bring the civil war to an end. That is what the lazy and frankly silly Obama should have been doing the past 2 years.
on August 30,2013 | 10:36AM
HatchKelso wrote:
Obama will consider protecting Syrian rebels but he won't protect our own embassy. Change we can believe in.
on August 30,2013 | 09:25AM
allie wrote:
Obama is a horrible flop. No more Punahou snobs who can't make executive decisions that serve USA interests please!
on August 30,2013 | 10:37AM
gari wrote:
too much talk in the news; do not know what is the reason for making all this all public...esp the 2 main guys . who are they trying to communicate with ?and is it helping the country ? they should talk to the congress and be accountable to some one .vs loose words . what happened to controlled press release .
on August 30,2013 | 09:25AM
palani wrote:
pcman wrote:
IRT palani on above red lines. They are links to videos of Obama and Biden on war under Bush. The videos prove Obama and Biden are stupid or hypocrites.
on August 30,2013 | 10:00AM
allie wrote:
Israel wants the USA to fight their wars and now are ordering Obama to send a message to their real enemy Iran. Next, they will demand a war against Iran. Ummm..Iran is not OUR enemy at all. Let Israel bomb its own enemies and please leave us alone. We have suffered enough.
on August 30,2013 | 10:39AM
palani wrote:
Respectfully disagree with you about Israel, Ms. allie. Assad has threatened a chemical weapon attack on Tel Aviv should the U.S. drone Syria. Israel is better of if the civil war drags on, diminishing all the bad actors there, just as Allah wills. Iran is a monstrous regime, but, unless they act upon their belligerent rhetoric, they should be ignored.
on August 30,2013 | 01:38PM
serious wrote:
allie, true. We don't have the money for tours of the White House but missiles at $1.4 million a crack--no problem!! We can't afford this--let their neighbors do the work--if they think it's a problem.
on August 30,2013 | 02:42PM
allie wrote:
on August 30,2013 | 10:37AM
jussayin wrote:
The very accurate drone attacks kills one innocent civilian of five killed; "The numbers show a death toll of 746 people, 147 of whom were confirmed as civilians" [from leaked data for 4 years]. But we're not at war with anyone (?)
on August 30,2013 | 10:04AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Basic disconnect:

Bush actually had public support to enter Iraq. He had congressional concurrence. He had a coalition of many countries.

Obama has no public support, no congressional concurrence and no coalition.

Now, does that make sense to anybody?

on August 30,2013 | 10:09AM
allie wrote:
Bush was an inept liar who followed the orders Israel gave him. As is Obama. As usual, USA will pay for it. And for those of you who think sleepy Hawaii can avoid consequences for this blunder, forget it. Oil will spike driving air fares up and tourists out. The increase of terrorism against an American aggressor will also keep tourists out if any of ti occurs in our general region. Hawaii depends on discretionary spending, faith in the economy and affordable transportation. Prepare to lose business folks. Also , stock market is 700 points down from its high. No wealth effect as tourists back off trips here. Good luck with your economy and your massive public debt.
on August 30,2013 | 10:42AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
allie what is your Major?
on August 30,2013 | 11:27AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Major Malfunction, hon
on August 30,2013 | 11:58AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
on August 30,2013 | 12:54PM
inverse wrote:
That is why Obama should have approved the Canadian/ US pipeline years ago. Had this project been completed the US would not be so vulnerable to the effects of flow of Middle Eastern Oil. Regarding Hawaii tourism, increased gas prices will increase airfare rates, however the wealthy American and Canadian visitors who can afford to take a vacation will be too scared to travel to Asian, Europe, etc as these countries be dangerous to visit, making Westerners targets for retribution and hence instead will choose Hawaii as the safest, most "exotic" vacation they will travel to. If Hawaii did not squander precious resources on a train to nowhere and overbuild Oahu, Hawaii as a resort destination can ride out the rough patches, but given the wasting of Hawaii economic resources, you are right such downturns can more readily bankrupt all of Hawaii and turn Hawaii into California or Detroit.
on August 30,2013 | 11:41AM
WooWoo wrote:
Inverse is correct that the keystone XL pipeline should have been approved. This has nothing to do with crimes against humanity; it has to do with the world energy market. Instability in the middle east can cause oil prices to skyrocket and plunge the US (and world) economy into another recession. If some central African warlord had gassed a bunch of civilians, the Pentagon would not be gearing up for anything other than labor day barbecues.
on August 30,2013 | 01:01PM
MakaniKai wrote:
"The Pentagon would not be gearing up for anything other than labor day barbecues" - I AGREE ! ;-)
on August 30,2013 | 02:23PM
Manoa2 wrote:
The pipeline will not change our dependence on foreign oil. Oil companies make more money importing oil than building infrascture to move it around and refine it. Oil companies just want to sell oil at a markup over what they pay for it-- easy business. This is economics and capitalism which so many lack an understanding of. If US Oil is made available, then it will be sold overseas where it will be bid up to higher prices than we in the USA will pay. Natural gas exports out of the USA are an example of this. No law prevents oil companies from selling to the highest bidder.
on August 30,2013 | 05:38PM
stingray65 wrote:
allie: You forgot that Military support the majority of economy of Hawaii!! Directly and indirectly!! Yes, it is more than you think. For example, Love's bakery, your think only WaLMart can afford to buy all the bread from them? If someone knows, ask them how much do they supply all the Military Bases in Hawaii?
on August 30,2013 | 03:42PM
jayz43 wrote:
Excuse me, Obama DOES have a coalition: a coalition of one. Bush had a coalition of over 50 countries. But this Syrian operation will probably happen because Obama is a blowhard and painted himself into a corner... and more and more people are FINALLY beginning to realize this guy is also a charlatan. This operation should be named, "Operation Save Face".
on August 30,2013 | 05:42PM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Sec. John Kerry, you lie. It just turns my gut listening to our Sec. of State. Yep, I was that combat veteran in Vietnam in 1969 who killed civilians, women and children and cut off their heads as a member of the 101st Abn soldier, that he testified before Congress. He lied then and is lying again. No, I cannot believe him and soon Pres. Obama may be caught in that same "trust" network.
on August 30,2013 | 11:41AM
allie wrote:
agree..Kerry is such a silly clownish man,. Sounds sanctimonious and phony.
on August 30,2013 | 12:05PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Got to figure old Hillary is feeling mighty lucky she scooted before all this cr@p hit the fan. It's been brewing since she was Sec of State but as they say....timing is everything!
on August 30,2013 | 01:25PM
stingray65 wrote:
Whie he was a young stupid Ensign in the Navy, he almost got wasted as so called friend fire in the PBR (patrol boat) in Mekong Delta. Because, he was a hot shot idiot that he thinks he knows everything..
on August 30,2013 | 03:47PM
fiveo wrote:
Secretary Kerry's statement is full of bravo -sierra. According to other sources, there were less than 400 casualties in the alleged gas attack and not over 1,400. Also some of Assad's troops were said to have been hurt or killed in the attack. Although Secretary Kerry claimed that the US had absolute proof of Assad's guilt in the gas attack, he nor anyone in the Administration have provided this claimed absolute proof. By the way, some of this absolute proof was supposedly provided to the US by the Mossad. Supposedly these are phone or radio intercepts from Assad's forces. Again, there is no smoking gun and only statements claiming we have proof, you can trust us. Yes, same bravo-sierra used to justify the second Iraq war. People are wise to this now.
on August 30,2013 | 11:46AM
allie wrote:
yup..Mossad was also behind a lot of the trumped up Iraqi "evidence."
on August 30,2013 | 12:06PM
palani wrote:
We do know for a fact that Saddam used chemical weapons against his own people, killing many more than those allegedly harmed in Syria. I wouldn't call that "trumped up" evidence, but it does suggest a reason why these weapons were not found during Bush's war - they were shipped to Syria.

Worst Chemical-Weapon Massacre In History

on August 30,2013 | 01:47PM
inverse wrote:
Yes. Also if Kerry and Obama are so sure that Assad is directly responsible for the chemical attack, how come neither can directly identify, much less capture the murderers of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans left to die in the Libyan Embassy?
on August 30,2013 | 12:25PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
And if it was Assad who did this then target a cruise missile between his beady little eyes and resolve the situation instead of sending "red line" messages.
on August 30,2013 | 01:26PM
MakaniKai wrote:
Novice Barry should have remained in Chi-town; clowning around as a community organizer. Dis guy and his circus are going to plunge the U.S. into war. Sadly for some he can do no wrong. Sigh.
on August 30,2013 | 02:35PM
HD36 wrote:
They always do something with unfavorable public opinion over the weekend and holidays.
on August 30,2013 | 03:00PM
entrkn wrote:
That's it Assad, hold your breath until I tell you to let it out...
on August 30,2013 | 04:12PM
jussayin wrote:
Well, besides oil prices going higher, US will escalate tensions and violence, e.g. Hezbollah bombing Israel and they return fire, Iran could play in this, etc. And yes, US will be even more hated my the 'Muslim world'. So Obama will then say we need more money to combat terrorism. And he's happy that Egypt is out of the spotlight. But hey, it's the long weekend ... and that's always good.
on August 30,2013 | 05:06PM
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