LATEST: Video: Cloud Of Smoke Rises As Barrel Bomb Explodes In Salma, Latakia
*Obama: “I Have Decided We Should Take Military Action….Once Congress Approves It”
*UN chemical weapons Inspectors Leave Lebanon for Europe
*Regime continues offensive against East Ghouta, armored cars seen on Damascus Circinate Road near Irbeen
Footage from Saturday shows the immediate aftermath of a regime barrel bomb exploding in Salma, Latakia. The regime has targeted Salma with airstrikes — including barrel bombs — ever since insurgents captured it in an offensive in Latakia Province earlier this month.
This video, filmed on August 29, shows the extent of the destruction in the center of Deir Ezzor, following a sustained period of regime shelling and airstrikes. The city center, is almost completely destroyed and is empty of civilians, most of whom have fled the area as fighting continues.
Video with English subtitles, filmed on Friday in Homs’ Joorit Ashayyah neighborhood, shows shops burning as a result of regime shelling. Most of the neighborhood’s residents have been forced to flee, and the ones who remain are effectively trapped in the neighborhood.
U.S. President Barack Obama is giving a press conference at the White House on Syria, starting at 17:51 GMT.
Obama says there is a “powerful case” that Assad used chemical weapons near Damascus — “Hospitals overflowing with victims, terrible images of the dead…young boys and girls gassed to death by their own Government”
The attack was a “serious attack on human dignity” and “risk to our national security” and “risk to our friends” including Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq”.
“This menace must be confronted,” Obama said.
The President continued:
“I have decided we should take military action”
The strikes will be “Limited” and “short in duration” but will degrade Assad’s ability to carry out these attacks.
Obama said that the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff says “we can attack when we choose” and this “not time-sensitive” — Can be in one day, one week, or next month.
But “conscious that America is a Constitutional democracy”, will need authorization from Congress.
Obama says he “spoke to Congressional leaders this morning and they agreed to call vote as soon as Congress back in session”
“I am confident in the case our Government has made without waiting for UN inspectors” or for “paralyzed” UN Security Council.
But, he adds, “while I believe I have the authority” to act without specific Congressional authorization, “our country will be stronger” if we have this debate.
The President then said:
“We must acknowledge costs of doing nothing….What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children in plain sight and pay no price? What message does it say to others who will flout international rules?”
The President says he is talking about “Countries who build nuclear weapons, terrorists with biological weapons, etc”.
Obama now assures “we will not put troops in the middle of somebody else’s war” but that the U.S. will “care for the displaced and seek a political situation.”
“We are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus,” Obama says.
The President closes with an appeal to Congress:
“We do what we say. And we lead with the belief that right makes might, not the other way round.”
He concludes: “I am ready to act in the face of this outrage,” and says he is asking Congress to do the same.
Martin Nesirky, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary General has just given a press briefing on Syria following a meeting today with UN disarmament chief Angela Kane.
Nesirky said that the UN needs time to consider the “entire body of evidence” on chemical weapons use and produce an “impartial, credible” report of what UN inspectors found on their visit to the sites of the attacks in the Damascus suburbs. He added that Kane and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon are doing “whatever can be done to speed up the process” but won’t provide a deadline for the final report.
The spokesperson said that there are 1,000 UN employees still in Syria, and that it was “grotesque” to consider the departure of the chemical weapons inspectors as opening a “window for military action of some kind.”
This video, which is circulating on social network sites, claims to show Syrian Alawites calling on Obama to give up any plans of a military strike on Syria.
Syrian refugees on Saturday protested outside the border crossing at Jerablus in Aleppo Province, after the Turkish authorities closed the crossing to Syrians. The border crossing is across from Karkamis in Turkey.
Footage from Saturday shows regime armored cars on the Damascus south circinate road near Irbeen (see screenshot of map).
This section of road has been the site of fierce clashes for some time, as the regime is trying to regain control in order to control access to Damascus from Harasta, which connects the capital to the central and northern provinces.
The road is of great strategic importance because of its location close to the regime’s Vehicle Command and Air Force Intelligence centers.
UN inspectors, flying from Beirut after leaving Syria this morning, have landed at Rotterdam airport in The Netherlands.
A spokesman for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said samples collected by the inspectors would be distributed between various laboratories for testing.
Qassim Saadeddine, a spokesman for the Supreme Military Council of the insurgency, has said:
The United States considers us to be one of the two parties engaged in a civil war, they haven’t spoken to the rebel leadership at large, though they have communicated to the political leaders in the Coalition. There may have been consultations with the head of our council, Salim Idriss, but I cannot confirm this.
United Nations inspectors have departed Lebanon, taking samples to European laboratories from their investigations of sites of chemical attacks.
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) August 31, 2013
Russia continues to try to persuade the U.S. to avoid a military strike on Syria.
President Vladimir Putin said Saturday that he wanted to remind his U.S. counterpart, President Barack Obama, that he was a recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize.
“I would turn to Obama as a Nobel Peace Prize winner and say: Before you use force in Syria, think about the future victims,” Putin said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Putin added: “Russia’s calls for [Obama] to give it some thought, before taking a decision to carry out an operation in Syria.”
The Russian President added that accusations that the Syrian Government used chemical weapons were “utter nonsense”.
Putin also called on international partners, including the U.S., to consider the Syria crisis at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg on on September 5-6.
“In the near future, we’ll be holding a meeting in St. Petersburg. I hope that the American President will be among the participants. It goes without saying that in such a broad meeting, we will have the chance to also discuss the Syrian issue,” Putin said, adding that only the UN Security Council could take decisions about the use of force.
“But the G20 Summit is a good forum for talking about problems. Well, why not use it?” he concluded.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksander Lukashevich said Saturday that U.S. threats on the use of force against Syria are “unacceptable” and go against previous commitments to allow a full UN investigation into the use of chemical weapons.
“Even U.S. allies have called for a “pause” to wait for the UN experts to complete [their work] in order to get an objective picture of what happened,” Lukashevich said.
Meanwhile, AFP on Saturday cite an unnamed “Syrian official” as saying that the Assad regime expects an attack at “any moment”.
“We are ready to retaliate at any moment,” said the Syrian security official, who wished to remain anonymous.
The Washington Post, in a report this morning about how U.S. allies are pushing for military action against the Assad regime, buries an important part of the story: that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who previously urged caution over strikes, now —according to administration officials — “backs the limited strikes now on the table, citing the importance of U.S. credibility and about sending a message that chemical-weapons use won’t be tolerated”.
The Post notes that previously, Dempsey had “cautioned the White House against trying to change the balance of power, citing a danger that opposition groups linked to al Qaeda will try to gain the upper hand.”
Footage taken before dawn on Saturday morning show large fires burning in the Al Wa’er district of Homs, following regime mortar strikes, which struck fuel tanks. The regime has launched an offensive to retake all of Homs and continues to strike neighborhoods of the city. Al Wa’er is predominantly a residential neighborhood and is also inhabited by displaced civilians who fled other parts of the city.
Activists on Saturday said that residents of Al Waer have been advised to stay inside and away from windows as regime forces carry out more mortar attacks.
Footage of regime airstrikes on Nawa, Dara’a Province on Saturday. Since insurgents overran Nawa several weeks ago, the regime has launched an offensive to retake it, with daily airstrikes, but has so far not been successful. Most of the town’s inhabitants have fled.
Sarah Palin, the Republican candidate for Vice President in 2008, criticizes proposed US intervention in the Syrian crisis:
LET ALLAH SORT IT OUT “So we’re bombing Syria because Syria is bombing Syria? And I’m the idiot?” – Sarah… http://t.co/0fOkN9KAZj
— Sarah Palin (@SarahPalinUSA) August 30, 2013
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem has said that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s proclamation of regime guilt over last week’s chemical weapons attack is “based on old stories” and “full of fabrication and lies.”
#Syria's Foreign Ministry: What Kerry presented is based on old stories published by terrorists over a week ago
— SANA English (@SANA_English) August 30, 2013
Al-Moallem expressed surprise at Washington’s efforts to “deceive its public opinion in such a naive manner” and said they were “a desperate attempt to talk the world into accepting the upcoming US aggression”.
The Local Cordination Committees claim 72 people were killed on Friday, including 21 in Damascus and its suburbs, 17 in Idlib Province, and 15 in Hama Province.
The Violations Documentation Center put the number of dead at 71,723 since the conflict began in March 2011, an increase of 75 from Friday. Of the dead, 54,176 are civilians, a rise of 53 from yesterday.
On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry pulled the gun from the holster when he harshly denounced the Assad regime for last week’s chemical weapons attacks that killed at least 1,360 people.
On Friday, he cocked it, declaring that US intelligence agencies had “high confidence” of the regime’s guilt and concluding, “The world’s most heinous weapons must never again be used against the world’s most vulnerable people.”
But when will the US launch its warplanes and cruise missiles? And how many will there be?
Kerry’s firm statement indicated that, with United Nations inspectors now out of Damascus, Washington might strike even before the UN Security Council met to hear the findings of the investigation: “The UN cannot mobilize the world….[So] the US makes its own decisions, on its own timelines, according to its own values and interests.”
However, an hour later, President Obama was far more measured and vague in brief remarks to journalists. While saying, “We can’t accept a world where innocents are gassed,” he said no decision had been taken and continued, “We are looking at possibility of a limited, narrow act.”