International

Obama preps for media push on Syria after gas attack clips released

Ahead of critical Congress vote, Obama will take to the airwaves to make a case for intervening in Syria

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) asks questions during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill September 3, 2013 in Washington, D.C., on congressional authorization for the use of military force in Syria.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Efforts by the U.S. administration to win over world opinion and a skeptical American public to proposed missile strikes on Syria continued Sunday, as a compilation of graphic videos purportedly showing the aftermath of a Aug. 21 gas attack was released. The videos also came as President Barack Obama prepared to take to the U.S. airwaves Monday in six televised interviews aimed at convincing Americans that a U.S. strike is necessary.

The disturbing series of clips, in which victims of the chemical assault, allegedly ordered by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, are seen convulsing and foaming at the mouth, was posted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. More than 1,400 are estimated to have been killed, intelligence officers have suggested.

It comes as the U.S. continues a push for greater support from the wider international community, and for the backing of both Congress and the American public.

In the international community, there is still much debate about who is to blame for the chemical attack in Syria. The German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reported Sunday that German intelligence raises doubts about whether Assad actually ordered the chemical attack, saying that Syrian government forces may have carried out the attack close to Damascus without Assad's permission, according to Reuters.

Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the presidential palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four-and-a-half months, according to radio messages intercepted by German spies, but permission had always been denied, the paper said.

Germany's foreign intelligence agency (BND) could not be reached for comment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Europe over the weekend pleading the case for greater backing from world leaders for the proposed strikes. Similar attempts by President Obama at last week's G-20 meeting seemingly failed.

Kerry warned that the international community could not be "silent spectators to this slaughter," and urged that now was not the time to "allow a dictator unfettered use of some of the most heinous weapons on Earth," a reference to the alleged chemical weapons said to have been deployed by the Assad government.

Kerry met in Paris with representatives of the Arab League, also part of the effort to garner support for a Syrian strike. He said that Saudi Arabia, a staunch supporter of the Syrian opposition fighting Assad, supports a military action.

Pleas to Congress, public

The plea for international support for a proposed missile strike on Syria comes as Obama prepared for a critical few days in which he will attempt to win over a war-weary public to the proposed military action. On Monday, in advance of a major national address on the issue Tuesday, Obama is set to record interviews with a series of U.S. networks in a bid to push his case.

But after years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, polls show the U.S. public remains skeptical of military involvement. A Gallup poll published Friday found that just 36 percent of Americans backed military intervention in Syria, with 51 percent opposed.

Likewise Obama could have an uphill task in winning over enough lawmakers to win a crucial vote in Congress on the proposed strikes.

Lawmakers, some of whom have already been briefed in public and private on the administration's case for intervention, return from summer recess Monday, with a vote expected in both the House and the Senate in the coming week.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., raised his doubts Sunday about voting for the U.S. to conduct a missile strike in Syria.

"It is not about party loyalty, it is about what is most effective," McGovern told CNN host Candy Crowley.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Obama attempted to address concerns about the strike. He said action was necessary to punish Assad for the alleged gas attacks, but added that intevention would not amount to "another Iraq or Afghanistan."

"I know that the American people are weary after a decade of war, even as the war in Iraq has ended, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. That's why we're not putting our troops in the middle of somebody else's war," Obama said.

"Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope – designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so."

Images of death

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Click for Al Jazeera's special coverage of the conflict in Syria

Meanwhile, in what could be construed as a further attempt to garner public support for strikes, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence published 13 videos Saturday purported to show the aftermath of the attack on a Damascus suburb last month.

The video clips -- which the Senate committee links to on its website warning of ‘viewer discretion’ -- depict adults and children convulsing and foaming at the mouth after exposure to what the U.S. intelligence community says are chemical weapons. 

The footage was initially shown to senators during a classified briefing on Thursday. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein had requested the material from the CIA, and members of her committee watched the videos that day.

In a counter to the apparent push for public support for punitive strikes against Syria, a commercial paid for by liberal group MoveOn.org will air in the coming days urging Congress to oppose U.S. military action.

The 30-second advertisement says the U.S. didn't set out to spend eight years at war in Iraq and a decade in Afghanistan and predicts the same thing will happen if Congress approves military action in Syria. 

"Don't lead us down this road again,” the message says, addressing lawmakers. It also urges viewers to call representatives to voice their opposition.

Efforts to win international support will continue Sunday with Kerry in Europe, where he will meet with French officials and representatives of the Arab League, which has so far backed international action, but only if endorsed by the United Nations.

U.N. weapons inspectors who visited the site of the alleged attack have yet to complete their report, but according they could release their findings in the next few days, a German newspaper reported Saturday.

The weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung said the interim report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will likely contain details on the gas, ammunition and delivery systems used in the attack. 

Al Jazeera and wire services

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