Top Democrat, GOP Senator Press Obama on Syria

WASHINGTON (AP) -

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a senior Republican are urging President Barack Obama to use limited military force to end the two-year civil war in Syria.

Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Carl Levin and GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona wrote the president Thursday, calling for air strikes against the Syrian regime’s aircraft and creation of a safe zone inside Syria’s northern border.

The two lawmakers said Patriot missile batteries already deployed to southern Turkey could be positioned to protect the zone, if Turkey agreed.

Levin and McCain also pressed for greater aid to vetted opposition groups, including tactical intelligence, food, medicine, fuel and communications equipment.

Meanwhile, a suicide bombing tore through a mosque in the Syrian capital Thursday, killing a top Sunni Muslim preacher and longtime supporter of President Bashar Assad along with at least 41 other people.

The assassination of Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan al-Buti removes one of the few remaining pillars of support for the Alawite leader among the majority sect that has risen up against him.

Al-Buti’s death was a big blow to Syria’s embattled leader, who is fighting mainly Sunni rebels seeking his ouster. Al-Buti has been a vocal supporter of his regime since the early days of Assad’s father and predecessor, the late President Hafez Assad. Sunnis are the majority sect in Syria while Assad is from the minority Alawite sect — an offshoot of Shiite Islam.