PARIS – European foreign ministers Saturday endorsed a clear and strong response to a chemical weapons attack that strongly points to the Syrian government, but they urged the U.S. to delay possible military action until U.N. inspectors report their findings.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, trying to make the Obama administrations case for a strike, thanked the European Union for a strong statement about the need for accountability.
Kerry said he would share his counterparts concern with U.S. officials.
A senior State Department official who attended Kerrys meeting with the ministers in Lithuania said Kerry made clear that the United States has not made any decision to wait.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose details about the private meeting.
Later, at a news conference in Paris with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Kerry said this is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter and that this is not the time to allow a dictator unfettered use of some of the heinous weapons on earth.
Fabius said that punishment is not at odds with a political solution. ... Bashar Assad will not participate in any negotiation as long as he sees himself as invincible.
UN denies report of preliminary findings
A German newspaper reported Saturday a team of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors could submit initial findings from its tests of samples collected in Syria by the end of this week.
The respected 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 that killed hundreds of people in a suburb of Damascus.
But chief U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said Saturday that we have said many times that there will be no preliminary report. The report on the Aug. 21 incident will be given to the (Security) Council and other member states once the lab analysis is complete. We are not saying when that will be, except as soon as feasible. This is a scientific timeline, not a political timeline.
Western diplomats from three major U.N. powers told The Associated Press that this was the procedure they understood was in place and said they had never heard of there being any possibility of an interim report. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they werent authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Protesters march outside White House
Anti-war protesters gathered outside the White House on Saturday to voice their opposition to a U.S. military strike in Syria, calling their picket line one that Congress shouldnt cross as it prepares to vote on the issue.
At least 150 protesters picketed the sidewalk in front of the White House and marched to Capitol Hill, chanting slogans like They say more war; we say no war and carrying signs that said a war on Syria would be Built On a Lie.
There is a grass-roots uprising against the Democrats and the Republicans, said Medea Benjamin, a founder of the anti-war group Code Pink. We do not want another war, she said, underscoring the broad public sentiment against U.S. military strikes on Syria.
16 killed in shelling of rebels near Beirut
Heavy government shelling of rebel positions near the Syrian capital killed 16 people on Saturday, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the mortar and artillery fire on the Moldokhiya agricultural area south of Damascus killed 14 rebels. A child and another civilian also died in the shelling, it added.
The group also reported heavy fighting between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar Assad around the Christian village of Maaloula northeast of Damascus.
The rebel advance into the area last week was reportedly spearheaded by al-Qaida-linked fighters, exacerbating fears among Syrians and religious minorities in particular that Islamic extremists are playing an increasingly important role in the rebellion.
Fighters from the Western-backed Free Syrian Army also have participated in battles around Maaloula, destroying two government checkpoints near the town last week, according to a statement by the main opposition coalition Friday.