The Syrian government resumed shelling rebel-held areas only moments after President Obama said a U.S. military strike on the country would remain on hold until Congress approved it, a witness told NBC News.
The nearly three-year-old Syrian civil war has left 100,000 dead and millions as refugees, but a recent chemical weapons attack has prompted the Obama administration to consider more aggressive Western intervention in the conflict.
President Obama said Saturday that he wanted to conduct a limited military strike on Syria—and that the U.S. military was ready to do so—but that he would seek Congress’ approval before moving forward. The Obama administration has argued that a strike was necessary after the U.S. obtained evidence that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, with a nerve gas attack last week.
A State Department official said that Secretary of State John Kerry called the Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Assi al-Jarba Saturday to reassure the rebel forces that despite the delay, President Obama remains committed to “holding the Assad regime accountable for its chemical weapons attack against its own people on August 21st.”
Members of the Syrian opposition, though, voiced disappointment after Obama’s speech.
“President Obama is sending contradictory messages,” a rebel spokesman told NBC News. “He promised to help, and now promises delays.”
Louay Safi, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council called Obama’s decision to consult Congress an “inaction and that the death will continue in Syria.” He said the U.S. president had a “moral responsibility to act.”
The director of the Igraa School outside of Aleppo also called on Obama to do more.
“Obama is the leader of the world. He must punish Assad harshly,” said Director Abu Omar. “Assad has killed so many people. Obama is not doing enough. He can do more than this.”
Congress returns to Washington from vacation on Sept. 9, and Speaker of the House John Boehner indicated Saturday that is the earliest lawmakers would take up a debate on the issue.
“We expect the House to consider a measure the week of September 9th,” Boehner said in a statement Saturday with other House leaders. “This provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”
NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell, Madeleine Haeringer, and Ayman Mohyeldin contributed to this report.