Syria: Obama Makes New Military Action Vow

Syria: Obama Makes New Military Action Vow

The US has a plan to help Syria's rebels bring down the Assad regime after launching military strikes, President Obama has said.

Mr Obama said again that military action against Syria would be "limited" but suggested a strike would go further than simply punishing President Bashar al Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.

The president said he was confident that Congress would vote in favour of military action and called for a prompt vote on the issue.

Later Secretary of State John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US must "stand up and act" in the face of "undeniable" evidence that Mr Assad gassed his own people.

He said: "This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to a slaughter."

Mr Kerry said he did not want to "take off the table" the option of US troops going into Syria, but that a ground invasion would only be possible if Syria "imploded" and there were concerns about terrorists obtaining chemical weapons.

He also urged lawmakers not to limit the scope for US strikes to a single occasion, as it emerged the military has identified sets of targets that could be hit "if necessary".

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said the US should strike Syria to prevent Hizbollah and other terrorist groups from getting their hands on chemical weapons.

Washington is currently assessing whether to order sea-launched strikes against Syria, with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden attempting to convince Congress of the need to intervene.

During a meeting of congressional leaders at the White House, the President said: "What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional. It will degrade Assad's capabilities.

"At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition."

After the meeting the president received a boost when the top Republican in Congress said he would back the call for military action, and urged his colleagues to do the same.

Speaking outside the White House, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said: "This is something that the United States as a country needs to do."

Democratic Leader in Congress Nancy Pelosi said she did not expect a resolution calling for military action in Syria to be rejected.

United Nations leader Ban Ki-moon stopped short of opposing strikes but urged Western powers to keep within the organisation's charter when planning their next move.

"We must consider the impact of any punitive measure on efforts to prevent further bloodshed and facilitate the political resolution of the conflict," he said.

Mr Ban insisted that the bitterly-divided countries on the UN Security Council have a "collective responsibility to humankind" to unite and halt the use of chemical weapons.

Mr Obama clarified his intentions after influential senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham met with him and said they expected US military action to be "more robust" than previously thought.

Mr Graham said: "It is all in the details, but I left the meeting feeling better than I felt before about what happens the day after and that the purpose of the attack is going to be a little more robust than I thought."

Mr McCain said in an interview that Mr Obama did not reveal what weapons might be provided to the opposition in Syria or discuss in what targets might be attacked.

"There was no concrete agreement, 'OK, we got a deal,’" Mr McCain said.

"Like a lot of things, the devil is in the details."

The president indicated in his meeting with the pair that the first 50-man cell of CIA-trained rebel fighters was heading for the Syrian battlefield, the New York Times reported.

The unit's deployment would be the first tangible show of support since Mr Obama announced in June that the US would begin providing the rebels with small arms.

Mr Obama's latest statement came after tensions in the Middle East were raised by Israel's unannounced missile launch in the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, Israel claimed it carried out a joint missile system test with the US after Russia's defence ministry said two ballistic "objects" were fired towards the eastern Mediterranean from the central part of the sea.

Israel's defence ministry said it had tested a single Sparrow target missile, which it said was "successfully" detected and tracked by its Arrow missile-defence system.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon shrugged off a question on whether the launch might have been ill-timed, telling reporters Israel had to work to maintain its military edge.

"It is known that preparedness of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) in the last week relies a lot on technological capabilities, that the defence establishment in its wider sense puts at the army's disposal.

"Research and development in the defence industry - engineers, scientists who work day and night - they know at the end of the day to put Israel in the front line of technology.

"This necessitates field trials and, accordingly, a successful trial was conducted to test our systems. And we will continue to develop and to research and to equip the IDF with the best systems in the world."

Despite reports that Israel was claiming the launch as a joint test with America, a US Navy spokesman said no missiles had been fired from any of its ships in the Mediterranean.

Sky News has obtained a letter from the speaker of Syria's parliament, Mohammad Jihad al Lahham, to French MPs as they prepare to debate the possibility of military action.

In the letter - similar to those sent to British MPs ahead of a Commons vote - he wrote: "We are writing to you as human beings and we ask you - if you bomb us, will we not bleed?"

General Hossein Salami, a senior commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, warned the US against attacking Syria, claiming military action would spread the "spirit of jihad" among Muslims.