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Syrian Refugee Ranks Swell as Obama Cajoles Congress

Syrian Refugees Reach New Peak
Some 2 million Syrians have fled to neighboring countries during the 2 1/2-year rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations said today. Photographer: Safin Hamed/AFP via Getty Images

Sept. 3 (Bloomberg) -- The ranks of refugees from Syria’s civil war reached a new peak as President Barack Obama sought to galvanize support in Congress for what he calls a “limited” military intervention.

Some 2 million Syrians, half of them children, have fled to neighboring countries during the 2 1/2-year rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad, the United Nations said today. A further 4.25 million have been uprooted inside Syria.

Evidence of the mounting human toll came as Assad warned France not to take part in a U.S.-led military venture and key pro-intervention senators urged Obama to work harder to make his case to a war-weary American public.

“Mr. President, clear the air,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said at the White House yesterday after meeting Obama. “Be decisive. Be firm about why it matters to us as a nation to get Syria right.”

Obama meets Congressional leaders at 9:45 a.m. Washington time today, stepping up the lobbying since his surprise announcement on Aug. 31 that he would seek the authorization of Congress to strike at Assad’s chemical-weapons capability.

The president then leaves for Sweden and the Sept. 5-6 Group of 20 summit in Russia, hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has used his UN Security Council veto to frustrate western efforts to pressure Syria.

Obama Plan

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are scheduled to testify on Obama’s Syrian plan before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 2:30 p.m. local time.

Oil prices have dropped almost 5 percent since rising to a two-year high last week as the odds lessened of an imminent military clash in the Middle East, the region that supplies about a third of the world’s crude. The price of crude traded at $107.09 per barrel today.

Syria’s Assad sought to break the will of French President Francois Hollande to join the U.S. in a military strike by warning of reprisals against France’s “interests.” French lawmakers will debate a possible role tomorrow.

Calling the Middle East a “powder keg” ready to explode, Assad told Le Figaro newspaper in an interview published late yesterday that a French intervention would lead to “repercussions, quite clearly negative ones, for the interests of France.”

France has close to 900 soldiers in a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, next door to Syria, according to the French Defense Ministry’s website.

French Case

France shaped up as the principal U.S. ally in an anti-Assad campaign after lawmakers in Britain, at the U.S.’s side in Middle Eastern conflicts since the 1990-91 Gulf War, voted against a military role in Syria.

France added to the intelligence case yesterday, releasing a nine-page declassified assessment that identified the Syrian government as the only possible culprit behind an Aug. 21 poison gas attack east of Damascus.

Obama and Hollande cite that massacre, which the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people including more than 400 children, as the reason for a narrowly targeted, quickly executed strike to degrade Syria’s chemical warfare capability.

Damascus-based Al-Thawra, a state-run newspaper close to Assad, accused the U.S. of orchestrating a terrorist campaign against Syria. “America can’t live without resorting to terrorism, or without spurring on warmongers,” it editorialized today.

To contact the reporter on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at jneuger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Fraher at jfraher@bloomberg.net

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