Tensions affect some U.S. staff in Lebanon, Turkey
As tensions ratchet up over Syria, the U.S. State Department on Friday ordered the withdrawal of nonessential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, and authorized nonemergency staff to leave a consulate in Adana in southern Turkey.
"Given the current tensions in the region, as well as potential threats to U.S. government facilities and personnel, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities," a statement said.
Many observers fear that the civil war in Syria, which has become increasingly sectarian in nature, could spill into neighboring countries.
The State Department also issued revised travel warnings Friday for Lebanon and Turkey, both of which share a border with Syria.
It urges U.S. citizens to "avoid all travel to Lebanon because of current safety and security concerns" and to be "alert to the potential for violence" if traveling to or living in Turkey.
Many in Lebanon worry that the involvement of the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Syria's civil war could destabilize their own nation.
Lebanon has been shaken by a series of deadly bombings in recent weeks, including a blast in a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut.
Al-Assad warned this week that a regional war could break out if Syria is attacked.
"The Middle East is a powder keg, and the fire is approaching today," he told French newspaper Le Figaro in an interview Monday.
Obama pushes for congressional action
Obama is seeking congressional approval for possible U.S. military strikes against Syria, although no vote is expected until after lawmakers reconvene from recess on Monday.
The president said Friday that he had expected skepticism from the public and from lawmakers.
He knew it was going to be "a heavy lift" when he announced Saturday that he was putting the proposal before Congress, he said, with some lawmakers foreseeing a "slippery slope" toward a prolonged U.S. involvement in Syria.
"For the American people who have been through over a decade of war now, with enormous sacrifice of blood and treasure, any hints of further military entanglement in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion," Obama said. "That suspicion will probably be even stronger in my party than in the Republican Party."
The Syrian parliament has urged the U.S. House not to support the proposed U.S. military action, the country's state news agency, SANA, said Friday.
In a letter addressed to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, his Syrian counterpart, Jihad al-Laham, called upon the House to communicate through civilized dialogue, not blood and fire, the news agency said.
He said Islamic extremists have seized and possess chemical weapons, SANA reported.
Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have both backed Obama, but Boehner has said it is up to the White House to get the 217 votes needed to secure his resolution there.
According to CNN's count, 109 House members plan to vote "no," while 23 -- including a number of high-profile Republicans -- plan to back it. More than 280 representatives remain undecided.
Syria offers rewards
Meanwhile, Syrian authorities are offering rewards, amounting to nearly $4,400, for handing over non-Syrian "terrorists," Syrian state TV said Friday. The Syrian government often refers to rebels as terrorists.
Officials offered nearly $1,800 for reports on the whereabouts of these individuals or help leading to their arrest, the state broadcaster said.
The identity of those providing information would remain confidential, and they would be provided with protection, state TV said.