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. said the strike killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children. Those numbers are significantly higher than the death toll of 355 provided by the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
Here’s a look at key Syria developments around the world today amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
The United Nations experts investigating the alleged chemical strike left Syria after conducting four days of on-site visits. An Associated Press crew saw the U.N. personnel enter Lebanon from Syria through the Masnaa border crossing and then drive in a 13-car convoy to the Beirut airport. Syrian state TV broadcast images of Syrian soldiers training, fighter jets soaring in the sky and tanks firing at unseen targets, to the backdrop of martial music.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, was expected to receive from the U.N. experts blood and urine samples taken from victims of the attack as well as soil samples from affected areas. The samples will be divided so each can be sent to at least two separate European laboratories for testing. The OPCW declined comment on how long it would take to receive results, but experts said the process lasts several days.
U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane is scheduled to brief Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the investigation conducted by the experts into the alleged chemical attack.
Five U.S. Navy destroyers were in the eastern Mediterranean Sea waiting for the order to launch. The destroyers are armed with dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which have a range of about 1,151 miles, and are used for deep, precise targeting. The missiles fly at low altitudes, and their range allows the ships to sit far off the coast, out of range of any potential response by the Syrian government. French military officials confirmed the frigate Chevalier Paul, which specializes in anti-missile capabilities, as well as the hulking transport ship Dixmude were in the Mediterranean for training and operational preparations but denied any link to possible Syria operations.
If he gives the order for a strike against Syria, President Barack Obama would become the first U.S. leader in three decades to attack a foreign nation without broad international support or in direct defense of Americans. Only France has indicated it would join a U.S. strike on Syria. Not since 1983, when President Ronald Reagan ordered an invasion of the Caribbean island of Grenada, has the U.S. been so alone in pursing major lethal military action beyond a few attacks responding to strikes or threats against its citizens.
Nearly two-thirds of French people oppose military intervention by their country in Syria, according to a survey released by polling agency BVA. The Aug. 29-30 telephone survey polled 1,010 French people over age 18. It found that 64 percent oppose their country’s participation in a possible military strike targeting Assad’s regime. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percent.