— The United States is considering launching a punitive strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, blamed by the U.S. and the Syrian opposition for an Aug. 21 alleged chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The U.S. has said a sarin gas attack killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children, based on intelligence reports. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-government activists in Syria, said it has been compiling a list of the names of the dead and that its toll has reached 502.
President Barack Obama said he has decided that the United States should take military action against Syria but is seeking congressional authorization for the use of force in a vote expected after Congress returns to work Sept. 9.
Here's a look at key Syria developments around the world Thursday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
Syrian government troops battled al-Qaida-linked rebels over a regime-held Christian village in western Syria for the second day, as world leaders gathered in Russia for an economic summit expected to be overshadowed by the prospect of U.S.-led strikes against the Damascus regime. Residents of Maaloula said the militants entered the village late Wednesday. Rami Abdul-Rahman, the director of the Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights, said the fighters included members of the of al-Qaida affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra group.
The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean weighed on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic. It was sure to eclipse economic battles that usually dominate when the Group of 20 leading world economies convenes in St. Petersburg. Leaders at the forefront of the geopolitical standoff over Syria's civil war will be in the same room for meetings Thursday and Friday.
Obama's advisers were pressing Congress in closed-door meetings for authorization of a military strike on Syria. The president arrived at the G-20 summit to surely face similar questions and skepticism from other world leaders. That includes the event's host, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The European Union urged U.N. investigators to release information as soon as possible about a chemical weapons attack in Syria so the international community can decide how to respond. EU President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters in St. Petersburg that the Aug. 21 attack "was a blatant violation of international law and a crime against humanity." He said it is too early for a military response,
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, warned a U.S. strike on Syria's atomic facilities might result in a nuclear catastrophe urged the U.N.'s nuclear agency to present a risk analysis of such a scenario. Gill Tudor, spokeswoman for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said the IAEA is ready to "consider the questions raised" by Lukashevich if it receives a formal request from Moscow. Russia's Interfax news agency said that Moscow plans to raise the issue at next week's 35-nation IAEA board meeting.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she doubts world leaders can agree on what to do about Syria's civil war despite frenzied diplomatic efforts following a chemical weapons attack. Merkel told reporters at the G-20 summit that because of disagreement over who was responsible for the poison gas attack last month, "I do not believe yet that we will reach a joint position."
Pope Francis urged world leaders to abandon the "futile pursuit" of a military solution in Syria and work instead for dialogue and negotiation to end the conflict. In a letter to Putin, hosting the G-20 summit, the pope lamented that "one-sided interests" had prevailed in Syria. He said those interests have prevented a peaceful solution and allowed the continued "senseless massacre" of innocents.
China warned of global economic risks linked to a potential U.S.-led military intervention in Syria's civil war. Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao says such "military action would definitely have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price."
An international aid group that supports doctors in war zones said one of its Syrian surgeons was killed in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo. Doctors Without Borders said that the 28-year-old surgeon, Dr. Muhammad Abyad, died in an attack. Abyad, whose body was found Tuesday, had been working in an Aleppo hospital run by the group also known as Medecins Sans Frontieres.