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. has said a sarin gas attack killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, based on intelligence reports. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-government activists in Syria, said it has been compiling a list of the names of the dead and that its toll has reached 502.
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 Wednesday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
President Vladimir Putin warned the West against taking one-sided action in Syria but also said Russia "doesn't exclude" supporting a U.N. resolution on punitive military strikes if it is proved that Damascus used poison gas on its own people. In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press and Russia's state Channel 1 television, Putin said Moscow has provided some components of the S-300 air defense missile system to Syria but has frozen further shipments. He suggested Russia may sell the potent missile systems elsewhere if Western nations attack Syria without U.N. Security Council backing.
France's government will offer a preview Wednesday of what the Obama administration faces next week as French lawmakers debate the wisdom and necessity of a military response to the alleged Syrian regime chemical weapons. President Francois Hollande has a majority in the French parliament, and he neither needs nor wants their vote of approval, unlike Obama. But with the prospect of military action against Assad facing dwindling support internationally, the government has been building its case.
The Al-Baath newspaper called U.S. senators and members of the Congress who supported a draft resolution to authorize a Syria military strike "advocates of war and terrorism." The editorial in the mouthpiece of Assad's Baath party said military action would generate "relentless resistance, regionally and internationally" in a way that "will not make the Americans themselves feel safe."
Obama's proposal to bomb Syria is dividing both political parties as they cope with Iraq war weariness and, in the case of the Republican Party, the rise of libertarian sentiment. The dilemma is most acute for Senate Republican leaders worried about tea party-backed challengers in their re-election bids.
Pope Francis ramped up Vatican opposition to threatened military strikes against Syria. He urged Catholics and non-Catholics to participate in his planned day of fasting and prayer for peace on Saturday, telling more than 50,000 people gathered for his weekly general audience: "Let the cry for peace rise up across the Earth!" In recent speeches, tweets and remarks, Francis has called for a negotiated settlement in Syria but has also condemned the use of chemical weapons.