POPE CONDEMNS CHEMICAL WEAPONS; INVITES ALL TO DAY OF PRAYER, FASTING FOR PEACE IN SYRIA
Pope Francis waves to faithful after reciting the Angelus prayer from his studio window overlooking St.Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. (Riccardo De Luca/ Associated Press )
VATICAN CITY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2013 (ASSOCIATED PRESS ) Pope Francis on Sunday condemned the use of chemical weapons, but he called for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria, and announced he would lead a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace there on Sept. 7.
Francis abandoned the traditional religious theme of the weekly papal appearance to crowds in St. Peter’s Square and instead spoke entirely, and with anguish, about Syria.
“My heart is deeply wounded by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments” on the horizon, Francis said, in an apparent reference to the U.S. and France considering a military strike to punish the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack.
Francis reiterated previous appeals for all sides in the civil war to put down their arms and “listen to the voice of their conscience and with courage take up the way of negotiations.”
With tens of thousands of people in the square applauding his words, Francis delivered his strongest remarks yet to express his horror at the use of chemical weapons.
“ I forcefully condemn the use of chemical weapons,” he said. “I tell you I have impressed in my mind and heart the images of what happened in the last days.”
“There is the judgment of God, and also the judgment of history, upon our actions,” he said, “from which there is no escaping.”
Usually soft-spoken, Francis raised his voice as he declared, “War brings on war! Violence brings on violence.”
His admonishment against resorting to arms as a solution recalled the repeated emotional implorations a decade ago by the late Pope John Paul II in a vain attempt to persuade the U.S. administration then led by President George W. Bush not to invade Iraq.
The deteriorating drama of Syria inspired Francis to set aside Sept. 7 as a day of fasting and prayer for Syria.
Francis invited Catholics, other Christians, those of other faiths and non-believers who are “men of good will” to join him that evening in St. Peter’s Square to invoke the “gift” of peace for Syria, the rest of the Middle East and worldwide where there is conflict.
“The world needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope and of peace,” Francis said.
He said the prayer vigil in the square will last from 7 p.m. until midnight.
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Obama says U.S. will take military action against Syria, pending Congress’s approval
FROM FORBES.COM: A combination of two file pictures made on August 31, 2013 shows US President Barack Obama (L) speaking to journalists on April 30, 2013 in Washington and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking to journalists on December 9, 2010 in Paris. Obama is expected to update Americans today on the way forward in the crisis, amid expectations that Washington will launch air strikes to punish President Bashar al-Assad's regime for using chemical weapons. (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)
President Obama put on hold Saturday a plan to attack Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, arguing that the United States had a moral responsibility to respond forcefully but would not do so until Congress has a chance to vote on the use of military force.
The announcement puts off a cruise missile strike that had appeared imminent, a prospect that had the region on edge and stoked intense debate in the United States, where many dread getting dragged into a new war.
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Obama did not indicate what he would do if Congress rejects the measure.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return from recess on Sept. 9to begin what is sure to be a contentious debate about the risks of injecting the United States into a conflict in which it has few reliable allies and enemies on both sides of the front lines. The Senate will hold committee hearings on the proposed strike this week, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced Saturday.
The decision to seek congressional approval for what the administration has said would be a short, limited engagement was a remarkable turn one day after Secretary of State John F. Kerry delivered an almost-prosecutorial case for military intervention. Obama made the decision Friday night following days of agonizing deliberations with members of his Cabinet, according to administration officials.
Shifting the burden to Congress potentially gives the president a way out of the political bind he created last year when he said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be a “red line” for the United States. It also buys the administration time to shore up domestic and international support for a strike that many came to see as a hasty response with potentially catastrophic consequences.
The decision could work in Assad’s favor, giving him more time to prepare for an attack that could ultimately become politically untenable for Obama.
Obama argued Saturday that the United States would be setting a dangerous precedent if it did not respond to the Aug. 21 attack in a Damascus suburb, which U.S. intelligence officials say killed nearly 1,500 civilians, including 426 children.
“This attack is an assault on human dignity,” Obama said in an impassioned afternoon address in the White House Rose Garden. “It also presents a serious danger to our national security. . . . It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.”
Some members of Congress applauded Obama’s move, a strikingly unusual one in presidential history, particularly for a leader who has been criticized for dodging congressional oversight. The president does not need congressional approval for limited military interventions, and the executive branch has not sought it in the past.
“At this point in our country’s history, this is absolutely the right decision, and I look forward to seeing what the administration brings forward and to a vigorous debate on this important authorization,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
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