Syria hails 'historic American retreat'

2013-09-01 16:05
(Photo: AFP)

(Photo: AFP)

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Beirut - Syria hailed an "historic American retreat" on Sunday after President Barack Obama delayed an imminent military strike by deciding to consult congress.

As Obama stepped back from the brink, France said it could not act alone in punishing President Bashar Assad over a chemical weapons attack, making it the last remaining top Western ally to hesitate about bombing Syria.

"Obama announced yesterday (on Saturday), directly or through implication, the beginning of the historic American retreat," Syria's official al-Thawra newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

The US president said on Saturday he would seek congressional consent before taking military action against Damascus for the 21 August attack which he blames on Assad's forces - a decision likely to delay any strike for at least nine days.

Syria's deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad denounced any armed Western move against his government.

"A decision to wage war on Syria is a criminal decision and an incorrect decision.

"We're confident that we will be victorious," he told reporters outside a hotel in Damascus.

However, Syria's opposition coalition called on Sunday on the US congress to grant approval for military action and said any intervention should be accompanied with more arms for the rebels.

Obama made his surprise announcement in a gamble that will test his ability to project American strength abroad and deploy his own power at home.


Before he put on the brakes, the path had been cleared for a US assault.

Navy ships were in place and awaiting orders to launch missiles and UN inspectors had left Syria after gathering evidence of a chemical weapons attack that US officials say killed 1 429 people in rebel-held areas.

The United States had been expected to lead the strike soon, backed up by its Nato allies Britain and France.

However, the Westminster parliament voted against any British involvement on Thursday and France said on Sunday it would await the congress's decision.

"France cannot go it alone," Interior Minister Manuel Valls told Europe 1 radio.

"We need a coalition."

France, which ruled Syria for more than two decades until the 1940s, has, like the United States and Britain, the military strength to blitz the country in response to the poison gas attack on areas around Damascus, which the Syrian government has accused the rebels of staging.

Valls said Obama's announcement had created "a new situation" which meant France would have to wait "for the end of this new phase".

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, polls also show strong opposition to a strike on Assad's forces among Americans weary of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressional approval will more than a week, if it comes at all.


A senior Syrian rebel expressed concern about the delay, saying it gave Assad and his government the chance to keep killing and prepare from a missile or bomb attack.

"As days go by, more people get killed by the hands of this regime.

"Further delay for action gives them a chance to change the position of their weapons," said Mohammad Aboud, the deputy commander of eastern joint command of the Free Syrian Army.

"According to the intelligence that we have, we know that he exploits this delay to prepare for this strike," Aboud, a lieutenant who defected from Assad's forces, told Reuters.

Foreign Ministers from the Arab League, which blamed Syria for the chemical attack but has so far stopped short of explicitly endorsing Western military strikes, are due to meet in Cairo on Sunday.


Read more on:    bashar assad  |  david cameron  |  barack obama  |  syria  |  france  |  us  |  syria conflict

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