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Al-Qaida-linked Syria rebels hit Christian village

As the world focused on possible US military action against Syria, rebels commandeered a mountaintop hotel in the village of Maaloula and shelled the community below yesterday, said a nun, speaking by phone from a convent in the village.She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.


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The attack came hours before a Senate panel voted to give President Barack Obama authority to use military force against Syria the first time lawmakers have voted to allow military action since the October 2002 votes authorizing the invasion of Iraq. The measure, which cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a 10-7 vote, was altered at the last minute to support "decisive changes to the present military balance of power" in Syria's civil war, though it ruled out US combat operations on the ground.

It was expected to reach the full Senate floor next week. The Syria conflict, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, has been stalemated, and it's not clear if US military strikes over the regime's alleged chemical weapons use would change that.

Obama has said he seeks limited pinpoint action to deter future chemical attacks, not regime change. Obama has been lobbying for international and domestic support for punishing President Bashar Assad's regime, which the US says fired rockets loaded with the nerve agent sarin on rebel-held areas near Damascus before dawn on August 21, killing hundreds of civilians.

So far, however, he has won little international backing for action. Among major allies, only France has offered publicly to join the US in a strike. In a parliament debate, France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault made a passionate appeal for intervention in Syria, placing the blame for the alleged chemical attack on Assad and warning that inaction could let him carry out more atrocities.

The debate ended without a vote since President Francois Hollande can order a military operation without one. Obama has called chemical weapons use a "red line," and top administration officials argued before the Senate on Tuesday that Assad would take inaction by Washington as a license for further brutality against his people.

The fighting has killed more than 100,000 Syrians and uprooted nearly 7 million from their homes.(AP)  

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