WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Delaying what had appeared to be an imminent strike, President Barack Obama abruptly announced Saturday he will seek congressional approval before launching any military action meant to punish Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack that killed hundreds.
With Navy ships in the Mediterranean Sea ready to strike, Obama said he had decided the United States should take military action, but also determined "our country will be better off" if Congress renders its own opinion.
At the same time, he challenged lawmakers to consider "what message will we send to a dictator" if he is allowed to killed hundreds of children with chemical weapons without suffering any retaliation.
Syrian President Bashar Assad is 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. said the attack killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children. Those numbers are significantly higher than the death toll of 355 provided by the aid group Doctors Without Borders.
Here's a look at key Syria developments around the world Saturday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:
President Barack Obama said he has decided that the United States should take military action against Syria but will seek congressional authorization for the use of force. Obama said he has the authority to act on his own, but believes it is important for the country to have a debate. He said congressional leadership plans to hold a debate and a vote after Congress goes back to work on Sept. 9.
U.N. chemical weapons inspectors arrived in the Netherlands with samples the team collected during four days of on-site Syria visits. They are expected to be repackaged and sent to European laboratories to be checked for traces of poison gas that may have been used in the alleged chemical attack. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based in The Hague, was expected to receive blood and urine samples taken from victims as well as soil samples from affected areas.
Rebels fighting to topple Assad said they plan an offensive coinciding with any U.S. strikes. Syrian state TV showed images of Syrian soldiers training, fighter jets soaring in the sky and tanks firing at unseen targets, to the backdrop of martial music. The potential U.S. military strike dominated the station's morning talk shows.
President Vladimir Putin urged Obama to consider whether strikes would help end the violence and be worth likely civilian casualties. Putin said Obama should reflect on the results of U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq before deciding whether to launch air strikes against Assad's regime.
U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said any notion that the departure of the chemical weapons inspection team from Syria opened a window for a U.S. attack is "grotesque." He said about 1,000 international and U.N. staff remain in Syria, and the United Nations is just as concerned about their welfare as it was about the inspectors. Nesirky spoke after U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane briefed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the investigation into the alleged chemical weapons.
Five U.S. Navy destroyers were in the eastern Mediterranean Sea waiting for the order to launch. The destroyers are armed with dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which have a range of about 1,000 nautical miles (1,151 miles, 1,852 kilometers) and are used for precise targeting. French military officials confirmed the frigate Chevalier Paul, which specializes in anti-missile capabilities, as well as the hulking transport ship Dixmude were in the Mediterranean for training and operational preparations but denied any link to possible Syria operations.
The Israeli military said it deployed an "Iron Dome" missile defense battery in the Tel Aviv area. If the U.S. attacks Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, Israel fears Damascus may respond by firing missiles at Israel, a close American ally.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's Committee on National Security, visited Damascus to show support for the Syrian regime. He said a strike against Syria will "not be confined to its borders but will have repercussions in the entire region."
Demonstrators opposed to military intervention in Syria burned U.S. and Israeli flags and chanted outside the American embassy in the Jordanian capital of Amman. Other protests against a Syria strike took place in Britain, France, Germany and Turkey.
Italian Premier Enrico Letta said his country understands why the United States and France are considering military action against Syria's regime, but said Italy cannot without U.N. backing.