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Senate panel backs Syria action

A Senate panel has voted to give US President Barack Obama the authority to use military force against Syria in response to a deadly chemical weapons attack, adding momentum to the White House's push to win congressional backing for a strike.

The vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was the first in a series as the president's request makes its way through congressional panels before coming before the two chambers of Congress for a final vote. The full Senate is expected to vote on the measure next week.

Mr Obama's top advisers took the argument for action to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives today, where the support seen in the Senate will be harder to find.

The resolution would permit Mr Obama to order a limited military mission against Syria, as long as it does not exceed 90 days and involves no American troops on the ground for combat operations.

The Senate committee vote was 10-7. It marked the first time politicians have voted to authorise military action since the October 2002 votes giving president George W Bush the authority to invade Iraq.

Mr Obama, who was visiting Sweden before he attends a G20 economic summit with Russia later this week, said the international community's credibility is at stake in the debate over a military response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The Obama administration said a sarin gas attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces outside Damascus last month killed more than 1,400 people. Assad's government has denied being behind the attack.

Asked about his past comments drawing a "red line" against the use of chemical weapons, Mr Obama said that line had already been drawn by a chemical weapons treaty ratified by countries around the world.

The Senate committee's vote had been delayed after Republican Senator John McCain, an outspoken advocate of intervention against the Assad regime, said he does not support the resolution. He said he wants more than cruise missile strikes and other limited action, seeking a stronger response aimed at "reversing the momentum on the battlefield" and hastening Assad's departure.

The Obama administration also needs to persuade a Republican-dominated House of Representatives that has opposed almost everything on Mr Obama's agenda since the party seized the majority more than three years ago.

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