US Senate panel backs Syria strike, while Putin asks for proof (LIVE BLOG)



People demonstrate against US intervention in Syria in front of the White House in Washington on September 3, 2013. The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on Syria on September 4, 2013.



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UPDATE: 9/4/13 5:00 PM ET

Wrapping up

Another day of Congressional hearings on Syria has ended.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly passed a resolution that gives President Obama the authority to strike Syria within 60 days, with a possible extension of 30 days. It included two amendments proposed by Sen. McCain, which called for "change of momentum" in the Syrian civil war.

The resolution will face a vote in the full senate. 

If you missed Secretary of State Kerry's opening remarks in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, here is a transcript.

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden joined the United States in condemning the use of chemical weapons on Wednesday.

The statement reads:

"With regard to the situation in Syria, we strongly condemn any and all use of chemical weapons, and we are convinced a strong international reaction is required. Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable."

President Obama, who was in Sweden ahead of the G20 summit, said the credibility of the international community was on the line, with regard to Syria.

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments.

UPDATE: 9/4/13 4:40 PM ET

Russia, and the case of the chemical weapons

Late Tuesday, Russian President Putin said he wouldn't "exclude" supporting Western military action in Syria if it could be proven that Assad was behind the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21.

However, here's the latest from a BBC correspondent:

And to make things more complicated, Defense Secretary Hagel said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that none other than Russia had provided Assad with chemical weapons.

When he was asked by Rep. Joe Wilson about the origin of the chemical weapons, Hagel said, "There’s no secret that the Assad regime has had chemical weapons, significant stockpiles of chemical weapons."

When pressed on a country of origin, Hagel replied, "The Russians supply them, others are supplying them with those chemical weapons, they make some themselves."

UPDATE: 9/4/13 4:30 PM ET

Kerry testified in front of House Foreign Affairs Committee

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday and they faced the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

According to ABC News, Hagel and Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey were due to give a classified briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday as well.

UPDATE: 9/4/13 4:30 PM ET

Syria defectors

Reuters reported earlier Wednesday that Gen. Ali Habib, former Syrian defense minister, had defected, citing a senior member of the opposition group Syrian National Coalition.

Syrian TV challenged that claim, and Secretary of State Kerry, who testified in front of a House panel on Syria, responded to the claim with "Who knows whether it has or hasn't" happened.

If news of the defection proves true, Habib would join a number of prominent Syrian officials who have defected from Assad's regime in the course of two years.

Here are some more key defectors.

UPDATE: 9/4/13 4:15 PM ET

US joined by Nordic countries in statement on Syria

From CBS' White House correspondent:

UPDATE: 9/4/13 4:05 PM ET

Details on Senate panel vote

After narrowly passing a Senate panel vote, the resolution that authorizes the use of military force in Syria will now head to the full Senate.

Politico noted the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who voted against the resolution:

"Two Democrats on the committee — Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut — rejected the authorization. And five Republicans on the panel — including potential 2016 contenders Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — voted against the measure."

Chairman Robert Menendez said, "I think obviously we are going to have to get 60 votes at the end of the day, that in and of itself is a very significant bipartisan effort — and the bipartisan effort we’ve been working on in the committee I think will lead us to a bipartisan vote and we’ll move onto the full Senate," according to Politico.

UPDATE: 9/4/13 3:45 PM ET

Senate committee passes Syria resolution

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted on the resolution authorizing military action in Syria:

The resolution that passed would include the amendments from Sen. McCain, which broaden the scope of military action to "change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria."

As the Guardian reported, the second amendment adds these two paragraphs:

(a) It is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria.

(b) A comprehensive US strategy in Syria should aim, as part of a coordinated international effort, to degrade the capabilities of the Assad regime to use weapons of mass destruction while upgrading the lethal and non-lethal military capabilities of vetted elements of Syrian opposition forces, including the Free Syrian Army.

UPDATE: 9/4/13 2:30 PM ET

Will he, won't he?

The New York Times reported that Sen. Rand Paul, who fiercely opposes intervention in Syria, was expected to filibuster efforts to authorize military action in the Senate.

A spokeswoman for the senator said he would push for a 60-vote threshold for the resolution to pass.

However, The Washington Post said Paul had no plans to filibuster the resolution.

"That would be a misinterpretation from the media," Paul said in response to a question from Sen. Tim Kaine.

It remained unclear as of early afternoon whether the Senate would vote on the Syria resolution on Wednesday.

The Times quoted Sen. Jim Risch as saying, "I believe we’re going to move forward on the resolution on marking it up, talking about amendments and actually taking a vote on it today."

UPDATE: 9/4/13 11:37 AM ET

Obama: World's credibility is on the line in Syria

President Obama, who is in Sweden on the first leg of a three-day trip to the G20 summit, said that the credibility of the international community was on the line in Syria.

"My credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line," Obama said, according to the BBC. "America and Congress's credibility is on the line, because we give lip-service to the notion that these international norms are important."

UPDATE: 9/4/13 11:33 AM ET

Former Syrian defense minister defects: Reports

Reuters reported that General Ali Habib, a former defense minister under Assad, had defected and was now in Turkey, citing a senior member of the Syrian National Coalition.

Reuters noted, "If his defection is confirmed, Habib would be the highest ranking figure from the Alawite minority to break with Assad since the uprising against his rule began in 2011."

Read more at Reuters.

UPDATE: 9/4/13 11:10 AM ET

The Senate's Syria proposal

Following a three hour long hearing on Tuesday, Sens. Robert Menendez and Bob Corker, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, drafted a revised resolution on Syria, Politico reported.

The resolution to "authorize the limited and tailored use of the United States Armed Forces against Syria," would set a deadline of 60 days for the Obama administration to act on Syria. Obama would have an option to extend the authorization for 30 days if he could make the case to Congress.

The resolution expressly states that it "does not authorize the use of the United States Armed Forces on the ground in Syria for the purpose of combat operations."

The entire document can be found here.

UPDATE: 9/4/13 10:05 AM ET

Putin "doesn't exclude" supporting Western intervention

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia "doesn’t exclude" supporting Western military action in Syria, so long as it is approved by the United Nations Security Council and based on conclusive proof that President Bashar al-Assad's government used chemical weapons against civilians.

In a joint interview with Russian state television network Channel One and the Associated Press, published Wednesday, Putin appeared to strike a more diplomatic tone ahead of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg this week that will likely be dominated by the Syrian crisis.

While he renewed what have become routine warnings by the Kremlin against a unilateral US strike against the Assad regime, Putin also said that Russia had suspended shipments to Damascus of its S-300 missiles. Only some components of the powerful surface-to-air missiles have been delivered, according to comments reported by the Associated Press.

Read the full report: "Putin: Russia 'doesn’t exclude' backing Syria strike"

Watch a portion of his interview with the AP:

UPDATE: 9/3/13 6:05 PM ET

Signing off, but ICYMI: Kerry's opening statement

Here is a transcript of Secretary of State Kerry's opening statement during the hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Watch the statement:

And Defense Secretary Hagel's opening statement:

This live blog is now closed. Please check here for further developments.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 6:00 PM ET

Not war in the classic sense

Kerry was firm in responding to Paul, saying it was "guaranteed" that Assad would use chemical weapons again, if the United States did not respond.

He reiterated that Obama was not asking to go to war in Syria "in the classic sense," but for the authority to carry out limited strikes that would degrade Assad's ability to use chemical weapons.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 5:50 PM ET

Rand Paul, almost proud, but not quite

Sen. Rand Paul said he was almost proud of President Obama when he chose to come to Congress to authorize action in Syria. But then he heard that Obama would go ahead regardless of Congress' vote.

"Make me proud today, Mr. Secretary," Paul said, speaking to Kerry.

"You're making a joke of us. You're making us theater," Paul said, saying a vote would be meaningless if Obama did not abide by it.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 5:25 PM ET

The first skeptic?

Sen. Tom Udall might be the first in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to maintain his skepticism.

He expressed grave concern on strikes, and also brought up the danger of Syrian rebels allied with Al Qaeda (such as Jabhat al-Nusra) gaining power as Assad lost his.

"What message are we sending?" Udall said, "To the international community, we're saying once again, the United States will be the world's policeman"

Kerry disagreed with both assertions, saying strikes would not strengthen extremists among the opposition, and acting would not make the United States the world's policeman. "It makes the United States a multilateral partner," Kerry insisted.

Udall was also firm in saying the United States had not done enough to work with the United Nations on Syria. "We haven't taken Russia to task. We haven't taken China to task," he said.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 5:00 PM ET

Choosing sides

The Guardian noted that skeptics in the Obama administration seem to have changed their minds on Syria, with both Hagel and Dempsey now supporting military action.

Defense Secretary Hagel, during his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama's national security team "concluded that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets."

Chief of Staff Dempsey, who two months ago wrote a letter warning that intervention in Syria would lead to further complications, said Tuesday, "The answer to whether I support additional support to the moderate [Syrian] opposition is yes."

In July, Dempsey warned, "Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next." He added, “Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”

In Congress, the votes were falling into four camps, The Atlantic wrote: The pro- and anti-intervention Democrats, and the pro- and anti-intervention Republicans.

"Some Democrats, haunted by Iraq, are staunchly anti-intervention, while others, haunted by Rwanda, are strongly in favor; some Republicans, inspired by former Representative Ron Paul, decry military adventurism, while others, in the mode of the George W. Bush Administration, see a need to act against a rogue regime."

Read more at The Atlantic.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 4:45 PM ET

Kerry: Syria has been historically secular

Sen. Ron Johnson asked why the US shouldn't deliver a knockout blow to Assad while it had the chance, and Kerry responded:

Johnson also asked for specific numbers on the Syrian opposition, and while Hagel and Dempsey passed, Kerry cited estimates of "tens of thousands."

He also said, "Syria historically has been secular. And the vast majority of Syrians I believe want to remain secular."

On US allies, Kerry said, "We already have more partners ready to do something kinetic than the military feels is necessary."

UPDATE: 9/3/13 4:35 PM ET

Meanwhile, on the internet

The hacker collective Anonymous has gone ahead with its own intervention, taking on its Syrian counterpart — the Syrian Electronic Army, Jeb Boone reports.

It's a shadow war happening online between two amorphous, grassroots groups. And Anonymous dealt the first blow.

Last week, Anons began releasing data they stole in April after infiltrating a server used by the Syrian Electronic Army. Over the weekend, someone began dumping it all on the so-called "deep web," a portion of the internet that isn't accessible by traditional browsers or search engines.

Read the full report: "Syrian Electronic Army revealed: Anonymous hacks SEA website, dumps data"

UPDATE: 9/3/13 4:25 PM ET

The only ones protesting...

So far, the hearing has been interrupted by three distinct protesters, each carrying pink placards. As with Senate hearings before, they are likely from the group Code Pink.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 4:05 PM ET

Let's not fight with Russia

Ahead of the G20 summit in Moscow, Kerry said it was important not to get into an "unnecessary struggle" with Russia on Syria.

He pointed out that the Russians were cooperating on setting up talks on Syria, and on North Korea and Iran.

When Sen. James Risch asked about Assad crawling "out of his rathole" after strikes and claiming victory, Kerry responded:

"If we don't respond, we're going to be back here, asking you to respond to some greater confrontation," Kerry said.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 3:50 PM ET

No boots on the ground

After mulling a hypothetical situation in which US boots on the ground would be needed to respond to Syria imploding or chemical weapons falling into the hands of extremists, Kerry walked back his statement.

"All I did was raise a hypothetical question about some possibility, and I'm thinking out loud about how to protect American interests," Kerry said. "There will not be boots on the ground with respect to the civil war."

UPDATE: 9/3/13 3:35 PM ET

US allies on Syria?

In his opening statement, Defense Secretary Hagel said US forces would be ready when the order came for action in Syria.

Hagel listed "France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and friends in the region" as the chief US allies on Syria.

Chief of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who did not give an opening statement, said he was asked to draw up plans to deter and degrade the Assad regime's capability to use chemical weapons.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 3:20 PM ET

Kerry: This is about humanity's red line

Kerry began his testimony by once again going over the evidence the United States intelligence community has compiled about the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21.

He said the US had physical evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the Syrian government was behind the attack. "Our evidence shows the Assad regime prepared for this attack."

"Only the most willful desire to avoid reality can assert that this did not occur as described," Kerry said. "It did happen. And the Assad regime did it."

Kerry said, "This debate is about the world's red line. It's about humanity's red line. It's a red line that anyone with a conscience would want to draw."

Kerry said the world was watching to see if the US would remain silent, especially naming Iran, Hezbollah and North Korea.

"Let me be clear: President Obama is not asking America to go to war," Kerry said. "He's asking for the authority to degrade or deter President Assad's capacity to use chemical weapons."

Kerry said, "This is not the time for armchair isolationism."

UPDATE: 9/3/13 3:00 PM ET

Not a declaration of war, but of values

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear from Kerry and Hagel this afternoon, and Sen. Robert Menendez started off the hearing.

Menendez said he did not take the authorization to use military force lightly. He said inaction in this case would embolden Iran, North Korea, Hezbollah and Hamas.

While acknowledging that there were risks in acting, Menendez said, "The consequences of inaction are greater and graver still."

"It is a moment for a profile in courage," Menendez said. "This is not a declaration of war, but a declaration of our values to the world."

Sen. Bob Corker spoke next, saying he was "totally dismayed" at the lack of US support for the "vetted, moderate opposition" in Syria.

Secretary of State Kerry began the hearing, saying, "The world is watching not just to see what we decide, but it's watching to see how we make this decision."

UPDATE: 9/3/13 2:35 PM ET

Are the US Navy and Air Force ready?

Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday that the US Navy redeployed warships to the Middle East, citing defense officials.

"The destroyer USS Mahan has left the Mediterranean while a battle group of warships led by the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is on its way to the Red Sea from the Indian Ocean, an official said."

"The departure of the Mahan reduced the number of US destroyers in the Mediterranean to four. Each of the warships is equipped to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles against targets in Syria if ordered to by US President Barack Obama."

"The US Navy keeps secret the precise number of Tomahawks on board but most military analysts estimate each ship carries about 45 cruise missiles."

Read the full report at AFP.

Meanwhile, the commander of the US Air Force, Gen. Mark Welsh, warned that budget cutbacks had severely impacted the Air Force's combat preparedness, according to Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz.

"According to Welsh, the reason the U.S. Air Force is only partially prepared is the grounding of interception and electronic combat squadrons. He said that he had not been pleased with the Air Force’s level of preparation while planning for its missions in Syria."

"Welsh said that two of the most vital capabilities in any airborne operation against Syria would be F-16 fighter jets, which are intended for electronic combat against Russian-made ground-to-air missiles, and F-22 fighter jets, which are intended for aerial combat."

Read the full report at Ha'aretz.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 1:50 PM ET

Where do Congress and the American public stand?

As we wait for Secretary of State Kerry and Defense Secretary Hagel's hearing on Syria, here's a look at Congress.

The Washington Post created a useful graphic to keep track of where Congressional lawmakers stand on Syria:

Currently, the majority seem undecided, while more Senate lawmakers seem to military action and the House leans against military action.

Read The Post's full article.

And Pew Research conducted a poll to look at the American public's view on Syria:

UPDATE: 9/3/13 1:30 PM ET

UN chief Ban: "It is imperative to end this war"

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held a short press conference on Tuesday, stating that the samples collected by UN chemical weapons experts in Syria would be expedited as the UN worked "urgently to establish the facts."

Ban said the UN was uniquely placed to be an impartial and independent judge of whether chemical weapons were used in Syria. He said all the samples would have arrived at a lab by Wednesday.

"Our common humanity compels us to ensure that chemical weapons do not become a tool of war in the 21st century," Ban said, adding that if confirmed, use of chemical weapons in Syria would be an "outrageous war crime."

"This is about our collective responsibility to humankind," Ban said. "It is imperative to end this war."

However, Ban warned that "punitive" action taken against Syria could increase turmoil and bloodshed in the region.

Ban also called for the Geneva talks, shepherded by the United States and Russia, to reconvene in an effort to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

When he was asked about the legality of Obama's position on military intervention in Syria, Ban said, "I have taken note of Obama's statement and appreciate his efforts" to base future actions on the "broad opinion of the American people and Congress."

He said military strikes such as those proposed by the United States and France would only be legal under the UN Charter if they were undertaken in self-defense or approved by the UN Security Council.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 12:45 PM ET

Would an aerial intervention accomplish objectives in Syria?

The RAND corporation released a report that examined the impact an intervention might have on the United States' primary goals in Syria, which include "negating Syrian airpower, neutralizing Syrian air defenses, defending safe areas, enabling opposition forces to defeat the regime, and preventing the use of Syrian chemical weapons."

The report found:

(1) destroying the Syrian air force or grounding it through intimidation is operationally feasible but would have only marginal benefits for protecting Syrian civilians;

(2) neutralizing the Syrian air defense system would be challenging but manageable, but it would not be an end in itself;

(3) making safe areas in Syria reasonably secure would depend primarily on the presence of ground forces able and willing to fend off attacks, and defending safe areas not along Syria’s borders would approximate intervention on the side of the opposition;

(4) an aerial intervention against the Syrian government and armed forces could do more to help ensure that the Syrian regime would fall than to determine what would replace it; and

(5) while airpower could be used to reduce the Assad regime’s ability or desire to launch large-scale chemical attacks, eliminating its chemical weapon arsenal would require a large ground operation. Any of these actions would involve substantial risks of escalation by third parties, or could lead to greater U.S. military involvement in Syria.

Read the full report at RAND.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 12:30 PM ET

Turkish media: Six killed in blast on border with Syria

Turkish media reported that six people were killed on Turkey's border with Syria in the southern province of Hatay.

Reuters noted that there were conflicting reports about the cause and location of the explosion, with some attributing it to an ammunition depot, while others said it was a car carrying scrap metal.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 12:20 PM ET

CIA-trained fighters sneaking into Syria?

The New York Times reported Tuesday that while Obama was meeting with McCain and Graham on Monday, he agreed to "doing more for the rebels."

The Times noted:

"Officials said that in the same conversation, which included Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, Mr. Obama indicated that a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria."

UPDATE: 9/3/13 12:15 PM ET

Obama's meeting with Congressional leaders

Following his meeting with Congressional leaders, Obama has won the support of (Republican) House Majority Leader Cantor, Speaker of the House Boehner and (Democratic) House Minority Leader Pelosi.

Watch Obama's statement before the meeting:

UPDATE: 9/3/13 11:45 AM ET

More Congressional backing for Obama

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor released a statement Tuesday:

"I intend to vote to provide the President of the United States the option to use military force in Syria. While the authorizing language will likely change, the underlying reality will not. America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially by a terrorist state such as Syria, and to prevent further instability in a region of vital interest to the United States."

Read the full statement.

House Speaker Boehner voiced his support for Obama's call to action, saying, "This is something that the United States as a country needs to do."

Watch Boehner's statement:

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On the Democrats side, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said:

UPDATE: 9/3/13 11:35 AM ET

Obama gets House Speaker's backing

President Obama, who has spent this week rallying Congressional lawmakers on Syria, got the backing of House Speaker John Boehner Tuesday.

Obama met with Senate Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham Monday to outline his plans for limited action in Syria, according to The Daily Beast.

The Obama administration has insisted that any military action would be solely aimed at punishing the Assad regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons, not to push regime change.

However, McCain told The Daily Beast, "He said that he was willing to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army." He added, "This was a shift in the president’s thought and actions from before."

"For the first time we have an outline of action that could lead to the removal of Bashar al-Assad,” McCain told The Daily Beast. “I’m certainly willing to join in that effort, but I need to know a lot of the details."

The New York Times reported that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were scheduled to meet "leaders of the House and Senate defense, foreign affairs and intelligence committees" on Tuesday morning.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify at a Senate hearing later Tuesday. We will carry that live.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 11:15 AM ET

France and Germany still back action on Syria

Nevermind Assad's warning of repercussions... French President Francois Hollande reiterated on Tuesday that the Syrian government was responsible for the alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21.

Hollande said:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also urged resolution on Syria, though Germany ruled out being involved in any military action last week.

Talking about an international response, Merkel said, "This is not very likely, but even the smallest chance must be used," while speaking to German parliament.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 10:50 AM ET

Assad warns of repercussions after strikes

Speaking to French daily Le Figaro Monday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that any French military intervention in Syria would have negative repercussions.

"Those who make accusations must show evidence. We have challenged the United States and France to come up with a single piece of proof. Obama and Hollande have been incapable of doing so," Assad told Figaro.

Anybody who contributes to the financial and military reinforcement of terrorists is the enemy of the Syrian people. If the policies of the French state are hostile to the Syrian people, the state will be their enemy," he said. "There will be repercussions, negative ones obviously, on French interests.

Assad warned, "The Middle East is a powder keg and the fire is approaching."

Read more at Reuters.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 10:45 AM ET

Obama: Assad must be held accountable

(AFP) - US President Barack Obama told congressional leaders Tuesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must be held to account for using chemical weapons as he pressed for an endorsement of US military strikes.

Obama also said that he was confident he will win Senate and House votes on authorizing military action, and pledged to upgrade US help to the Syrian opposition over time.

Obama warned the leadership of both parties in Congress and the bipartisan leadership of key security committees that Assad had violated a vital international norm by using chemical weapons.

Read more at Agence France-Presse.

UPDATE: 9/3/13 7:00 AM ET

A 'humanitarian calamity,' as Syrian refugees hit 2 million

Today, last year, there were about 230,670 Syrian refugees. Now more than 2 million Syrians have fled their country's civil war, with a possible total of 3.5 million refugees expected by the end of the year, the United Nations said Tuesday.

On average, some 5,000 men, women and children daily escape the war-torn country, as reports of brutal sectarian violence and chemical weapons attacks continue.

"The war is now well into its third year and Syria is hemorrhaging women, children and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs," the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said in a statement.

About half of refugees are children, three-quarters of them aged less than 11 years, UN agencies estimate. Since leaving their country, only 118,000 children have continued their education. Some have started to call this unfortunate group a "lost generation."

"What is appalling is that the first million fled Syria during two years. The second million fled Syria in (the past) six months," said Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "We have now almost one-third of the Syria population that has been displaced, and half in need of assistance."

Since the civil war began in March 2011, when President Bashar al-Assad's government cracked down on a domestic opposition movement, refugees have fled into neighboring countries, such as Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. Ministers from those countries are scheduled to meet with Guterres on Wednesday in a bid to bolster international support for refugees.

It's "a disgraceful humanitarian calamity with suffering and displacement unparalleled in recent history," Guterres said, adding that "the only solace is the humanity shown by the neighboring countries in welcoming and saving the lives of so many refugees."

About 4.25 million people have been displaced inside Syria, UNHCR says.

The United States has urged the international community to sanction a limited military response against Assad's forces, who, according to US intelligence agencies, used chemical weapons on Aug. 21 in an attack that killed 1,429 people.

The White House is seeking authority from Congress to begin an assault, though congressional authority is not required for the president to order a strike.  

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