Syria Attack Causes Divisions At Arab League

Saudi Arabia and the Syrian opposition called on Arab states to support a Western attack on the regime of Bashar Al Assad at a special meeting of the Arab League to discuss the situation in the war-torn country.

Saudi Arabia called on the world community to take all necessary steps to deter Syrian government violence.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal said that opposing military intervention in Syria encourages the Damascus regime to “pursue its crimes”.

“Opposition to international action only encourages the regime to pursue its crimes,” he said.

“The time has come to call on the world community to bear its responsibility and take the deterrent measure that puts a halt to the tragedy,” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal told the Arab League meeting in Cairo.

The head of Syria’s opposition National Coalition too urged Arab countries to back US-led Western strikes on the Damascus regime over an alleged chemical wepaons attack.

“I am here before you today to appeal to your brotherly and humanitian sentiments and ask you to back the international operation against the destructive war machine” of the Syrian regime, Ahmad al-Jarba told a Cairo meeting of Arab League foreign ministers.

Egypt however stood by its position, refusing to back an attack and calling on warring parties to come to the negotiating table. While condemning the Bashar Al Assad regime, foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy stressed his country’s support for efforts by the United States and Russia to launch peace talks in Geneva.

Syria meaanwhile hailed an “historic American retreat” on Sunday, mockingly accusing President Barack Obama of hesitation and confusion after he delayed a military strike to consult Congress.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said tests had shown sarin nerve gas was fired on rebel-held areas near Damascus, and expressed confidence that lawmakers would do “what is right” in responding to last month’s attack.

Washington says more than 1,400 people, many of them children, were killed in the attack.

Obama’s decision on Saturday to seek congressional authorisation for punitive military action against Syria is likely to delay any strike for at least nine days.

However, the United Nations said his announcement could be seen as part of an effort to forge a global consensus on responding to the use of chemical arms anywhere.

With Obama drawing back from the brink, President Bashar Al Assad’s government reacted defiantly to the threat of Western retaliation for the August 21 chemical attack, which it says was staged by the rebels.

Al Assad said Syria was capable of confronting any external strike, but left the most withering comments to his official media and a junior minister.

“Obama announced yesterday, directly or through implication, the beginning of the historic American retreat,” Syria’s official Al Thawra newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Miqdad accused Obama of indecision. “It is clear there was a sense of hesitation and disappointment in what was said by President Barack Obama yesterday. And it is also clear there was a sense of confusion as well,” he told reporters in Damascus.

Before Obama put on the brakes, the path had been cleared for a US assault. US Navy ships were in place and awaiting orders to launch missiles, and UN inspectors had left Syria after gathering evidence on the use of chemical weapons.

Kerry urged sceptical US lawmakers to back a strike on Al Assad’s forces. “This is squarely now in the hands of Congress,” he told CNN, saying he had confidence “they will do what is right because they understand the stakes.” Last month’s attack was the deadliest incident of the Syrian civil war and the world’s worst use of chemical arms since Iraq’s Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Kurds in 1988.

However, opinion polls show strong opposition to a punitive strike among Americans weary of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

US lawmakers for the most part welcomed Obama’s decision but have not cut short their summer recess, which ends Sept. 9.

Many Democrats and Republicans are uneasy about intervening in a distant civil war in which 100,000 people have been killed over the past 2-1/2 years.

Lawmakers were to be briefed by Obama’s national security team on the case for military action. Kerry said he had more evidence backing 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.” The UN weapons inspectors collected their own samples and diplomats say Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has told the five permanent Security Council members – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – that it would take up to two weeks before the final report is ready.

Ban views Obama’s decision “as one aspect of an effort to achieve a broad-based international consensus on measures in response to any use of chemical weapons,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

In Damascus, Syrians reacted with a mixture of relief, disappointment and scorn to Obama’s decision. “I have to admit this morning was the first time I felt I could sleep in,” said Nawal, who works as a housekeeper in the Syrian capital.

Bread had returned to the bakeries and members of the state security forces appeared relaxed, drinking tea and chatting at their posts outside government buildings.

“We always knew there wouldn’t be a strike. It’s not going to happen. Anyway, we were never nervous about it. We were just worried for the civilians. But we’re confident it’s not going to happen,” one of them said.

The United States had originally been expected to lead a strike relatively quickly, backed up by its NATO allies Britain and France. However, British lawmakers voted last Thursday against any involvement and France said on Sunday it would await the U.S. Congress’s decision.

“France cannot go it alone,” Interior Minister Manuel Valls/stold Europe 1 radio. “We need a coalition.” French President Francois Hollande, whose country ruled Syria for more than two decades until the 1940s, has come under increasing pressure to put the intervention to parliament.

Source : Reuters – AFP- AP

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