Obama campaign for strike runs into wall of skepticism

WASHINGTON – Nearly a week into President Obama’s campaign to convince Congress that airstrikes against Syria are necessary, he has achieved little headway against a wall of skepticism on Capitol Hill.

The president’s challenge is made more difficult by the fact that the two parties are splintered on the issue — and that lawmakers say they are hearing virtually no support for an attack from their constituents at home.

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a libertarian, tweeted Thursday: “If you’re voting yes on military action in #Syria, might as well start cleaning out your office. Unprecedented level of public opposition.”

Democrats are torn between their fear of crippling a Democratic president with a “no” vote and their anxiety that they might be repeating the mistakes of recent history in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

For Republicans, the debate over striking Syria has reopened a long-standing schism between the party’s internationalist and non-interventionist wings at a moment when the party is struggling to reinvent itself. The vote will be a test of some of the party’s possible 2016 presidential contenders, who until now have had the luxury of standing on the sidelines and criticizing Obama on foreign policy.

Given the dissent within their ranks, even the most influential of those who back the operation are showing little enthusiasm for pressuring their colleagues to come aboard.

– The Associated Press

Forces battle to control Christian mountain village

DAMASCUS, Syria – The sound of artillery reverberated Thursday through a predominantly Christian village north of Damascus as government troops and al-Qaida-linked rebels battled for control of the mountainside sanctuary.

The hit-and-run attacks on the ancient village of Maaloula, one of the few places in the world where residents still speak Aramaic, highlighted fears among Syria’s religious minorities about the growing role of extremists among those fighting in the civil war to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The fighting in Maaloula, a scenic village of about 3,300 perched high in the mountains, began early Wednesday when militants from Jabhat al-Nusra stormed in after a suicide bomber struck an army checkpoint guarding the entrance.

The group — listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department — is one of the most effective fighting forces among Syrian rebels. The suicide attack triggered battles that terrorized residents in the village, famous for two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria — Mar Sarkis and Mar Takla.

Online video showed rebels in the streets, some firing truck-mounted heavy machine guns in the direction of the surrounding mountains. The video appeared authentic and matched Associated Press reporting on the fighting.

– The Associated Press