KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- The United States must show stronger international leadership to halt the violence in Syria, which could become a significant issue in this year's presidential campaign, two U.S. senators said Thursday.
Republican Sen. John McCain said last weekend's massacre of dozens of Syrian civilians proved that "it's time to act; it's time to give the Syrian opposition the weapons in order to defend themselves."
"It is also embarrassing that the United States of America refuses to show leadership and come to the aid of the Syrian people," McCain told reporters while visiting Kuala Lumpur with independent Sen. Joe Lieberman at the invitation of a Malaysian business association.
Lieberman said he believed it might become necessary to use "the kind of American and allied airpower" against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces as what was used to oust Libya's Moammar Gadhafi last year.
President Barack Obama's administration has so far said it remains opposed to military action in Syria. It has relied heavily on economic sanctions as a means for pressing Assad to leave power.
In the wake of last weekend's massacre of 108 civilians, including children, in the town of Houla, the U.S. and several other countries expelled Syrian diplomats to protest the killings.
McCain said he expects "significant debate" before the presidential election about "America's role in the world, about our leadership, about our commitment to the fundamental rights."
"I think a lot of Americans are asking the question, why are we standing by while innocent children are being murdered ... and we use nothing but rhetoric in response," he said.
Lieberman said he hopes it becomes a campaign issue because "America should judge itself by the extent to which we follow a foreign policy that has a moral and humanitarian component to it."
McCain and Lieberman also said they believe that a strong U.S. political and military commitment in Asia is needed to ensure regional stability and to help peacefully resolve the territorial dispute over the resource-rich South China Sea.
Both stressed they do not envision any serious confrontation between the U.S. and China, but added that they oppose Beijing's expansive claims over most of the South China Sea, which are disputed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
"We support the position taken by the (Southeast Asian) countries that there be multilateral negotiations between China and the affected countries – not, as the Chinese state, on a one-by-one basis. That would obviously give an unfair advantage to China," McCain said.
Lieberman added that the U.S. was "not simply going to roll over and accept anything that China asserts.""It's been a bedrock principle of American foreign policy to protect the freedom of the seas," he said.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|