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WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama’s plan to conduct punishing military strikes on Syria passed its first congressional hurdle Wednesday, paving the way for a full Senate debate on the use of force.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved an amended resolution 10-7, with one senator, the chamber’s newest member Edward Markey (D-MA), voting present, that authorizes U.S. military intervention with a 90-day deadline and bars American boots on the ground for combat purposes.

Senate leaders have said the full chamber will debate and vote next week on authorization of the use of force in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons against his own people.

The House of Representatives, where a tougher vote is expected, will begin consideration next week but its leaders have not announced the timing.

“What we’ve done today is a step in the right direction. I hope it makes a safer world,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL).

The chamber’s number two Democrat voted against the war in Iraq, but he insisted that “this is different.”

“I really believe there is a moral component here that’s critically important,” he said, citing how all members of the committee are horrified by the abhorrent attacks by Assad.

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the committee’s chairman, said the amended, bipartisan resolution marks “a good foundation” for passing the Senate.

“This resolution strikes the type of balance that we are hearing from members on both sides of the aisle in both houses as to what their concerns are.”

Lawmakers tweaked the resolution to include language sought by Republican Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who had threatened a no vote unless the measure addressed efforts to change the “momentum” on the battlefield in Syria.

“Any observer would agree that unless Bashar al-Assad believes that he is going to lose, it will be impossible for him to negotiate a peaceful settlement and departure from Syria,” McCain told the committee as it debated and ultimately approved his amendment.

McCain voted yes for the resolution, but five Republicans, including two potential 2016 presidential candidates, Rand Paul (R-KY) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), voted against.


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