MENAFN - Khaleej Times
Saudi seeks Arab support in Syria US says sarin gas used
(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal on Sunday urged Arab countries to back calls by the Syrian opposition for strikes on the Damascus regime, even as US Secretary of State John Kerry sought to build the case to convince skeptical US lawmakers to authorise a military strike, saying tests showed that sarin nerve gas was used in Syria.
The US Navy has deployed an amphibious transport ship to the Mediterranean, where five destroyers are already in place for possible missile strikes on Syria, a US defence official said.
Saud Al Faisal, before a meeting of Arab foreign ministers, said Arab states must echo demands by the "legitimate" representatives of the Syrian people for "help from the international community to put an end to the bloodbath" in Syria, referring to the opposition.
The Saudi foreign minister did not explicitly mention a call by US President Barack Obama to launch punitive strikes on Syria.
But he told a news conference in Cairo that the international community must stop "the aggression against the Syrian people before these people perish".
Syria's main opposition bloc said on Sunday it was disappointed with Obama's decision to seek approval from Congress for action against the regime, but said it believed lawmakers would approve a strike.
"We had a feeling of disappointment. We were expecting things to be quicker, that a strike would be imminent," said Samir Nashar, a top official at the Syrian National Coalition.
"But we believe Congress will approve a strike," he added, a day after Obama made the shock announcement that he will seek congressional approval for military intervention in Syria.
The Saudi foreign minister urged his counterparts in the pan-Arab body to back the Syrian opposition beyond condemnations of regime atrocities.
"Condemnations are not enough," he said.
A meeting of permanent representatives of the Arab League last Tuesday accused President Bashar Al Assad's forces of unleashing a chemical attack in Damascus suburbs on August 21.
They also condemned the "horrible crime carried out with internationally prohibited chemical weapons" and put the "entire responsibility" on Assad's regime.
Saudi Arabia is a major backer of Syrian rebels who have been fighting to oust Assad since a brutal crackdown on Arab Spring protests in 2011.
Saudi officials have in the past few days made repeated called for decisive action against Syria.
Kerry invoked the crimes of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and the potential threat to Israel from Syria and Iran in a round of television interviews a day after President Barack Obama delayed imminent military action in Syria to seek approval first from the US Congress - a decision that puts any strike on hold for at least nine days.
It became apparent on Sunday that convincing Congress of atrocities committed by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's forces was only one of the challenges confronting Obama as he seeks their approval.
Lawmakers raised a broad array of concerns, including the potential effectiveness of limited strikes, the possible unintended consequence of sparking a wider Middle East conflict, the wisdom of acting without broader international backing to share the burden and war-weariness of the American public.
Many in Congress have been able to avoid taking a position on the merits of a military strike, focusing instead on demands that Obama consult them and seek their approval.
While Kerry predicted Obama would win the endorsement he wants, a growing cacophony of congressional critics - ranging from liberal Democratic doves to Republican Tea Party conservatives - illustrated just how hard that will be.
"This is squarely now in the hands of Congress," Kerry told CNN, saying he had confidence "they will do what is right because they understand the stakes."
With lawmakers due to be briefed later on Sunday by Obama's national security team on the administration's rationale for military action, Kerry used the television appearances to provide further evidence backing its accusations against the Syrian government.
"I can share with you today that blood and hair samples that have come to us through an appropriate chain of custody, from east Damascus, from first responders, it has tested positive for signatures of sarin," Kerry told CNN's "State of the Union."
It was the first time the administration has pinpointed what kind of chemical was used in the attack on a rebel-held area, which US intelligence agencies said killed more than 1,400 people, many of them children.
"So this case is building and this case will build," Kerry told NBC's "Face the Nation."
Mena while, the USS San Antonio, with several helicopters and hundreds of Marines on board, is "on station in the Eastern Mediterranean" but "has received no specific tasking," said a defence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Unlike the destroyers deployed to the area, the San Antonio carries no Tomahawk cruise missiles but can ferry up to four helicopters and is designed to bring Marines ashore by chopper or landing craft.
There are five destroyers off the coast of Syria, the USS Stout, Mahan, Ramage, Barry and Graveley, that are ready to fire cruise missiles if Obama gives the order.
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