Last week, the observatory said it had confirmed at least 322 deaths in the attacks, including at least 90 rebel fighters, 82 women and 54 children. And the international aid group Doctors Without Borders has said that three hospitals it supports in Syria received approximately 3,600 patients displaying symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals on the day of the attack. Of those patients, 355 reportedly died.
The Local Coordinating Committee of Syria, an anti-Assad group, said in a Facebook posting that it had tabulated 1,252 dead in 11 different “medical points,” with the largest number, 400, in Zamalka.
Not even the high number of apparent chemical weapons casualties – and the wrenching videos of their suffering – appears to have moved the American public any closer to supporting a U.S. attack on Syria. Polls show that Americans remain skeptical of the mission and largely confused about the Syrian crisis.
An NBC News poll taken Wednesday and Thursday found half do not support military action in response to the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. And by 41 percent to 27 percent, they don’t see use of military force as improving the lives of Syrian civilians.
Noting the lack of popular support for intervention from a war-weary American population, Kerry said: “Fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.”
There were also divergent views coming from Capitol Hill after Kerry and Obama spoke Friday. Lawmakers who advocate action against Syria continued to do so, while members of the House of Representatives and Senate who believe that Obama must consult with them before intervening in Syria clung to their beliefs.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., hawks who’ve chastised Obama for a perceived passivity on Syria, urged him to launch a powerful attack against Assad in response to last week’s chemical weapons attack outside Damascus.
“The goal of military action should be to shift the balance of power on the battlefield against Assad and his forces,” McCain and Graham said in a statement. “The United States, together with our allies, should take out Assad’s air power, ballistic missiles, command and control, and other significant military targets, and we should dramatically increase our efforts to train and arm Syrian opposition forces.”
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed concern about a military strike done without support of other nations and before United Nations inspectors finish their work.
Instead, Levin urged Obama to “send a powerful message to the Assad regime by immediately getting lethal aid to vetted elements of the Syrian opposition.”
But several lawmakers said the Obama administration still hasn’t done enough to state its case for intervention in Syria, especially if the United States must act alone.
Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, summed up the concerns: “As we have said, if the president believes this information makes a military response imperative, it is his responsibility to explain to Congress and the American people the objectives, strategy, and legal basis for any potential action.”
David Lightman, William Douglas, Lindsay Wise and James Rosen contributed from Washington. Special correspondent Mitchell Prothero contributed from Beirut.