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White House considers airstrikes in Syria targeting Islamic militants

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WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - Syria's foreign minister said Monday that his country was ready to help confront the rising threat from Islamic State militants, but warned the United States against carrying out airstrikes in Syria without Damascus' consent, saying any such attack would be considered an aggression.

This undated file image posted on a militant website on Jan. 4, 2014, shows a senior member of ISIS next to a burning police vehicle in Iraq's Anbar Province. (AP photo)

In seeking to portray Syria as a partner for the international community, Walid al-Moallem seemed intent on capitalizing on the growing clamor among some U.S. officials, including military leaders, to expand the current American air campaign against the Islamic extremists in Iraq and to hit them in Syria as well.

President Barack Obama has long been wary of getting dragged into the bloody and complex Syrian civil war that the United Nations says has killed more than 190,000 people. He has resisted intervening militarily in the conflict, even after a deadly chemical weapons attack a year ago that Washington blamed on President Bashar Assad's government.

But the extremist group's rampage across wide swaths of Iraq, declaration of a state governed by their harsh interpretation of Islamic law in territory spanning the Iraq-Syria border, and the grisly beheading of American journalist James Foley, have injected a new dynamic into those calculations. Now, Obama faces pressure from his own military leaders to go after the extremists inside Syria.

White House officials have suggested that airstrikes in Syria are an option, though the officials say specific military proposals have not yet been presented to the president.

"We're actively considering what's going to be necessary to deal with that threat, and we're not going to be restricted by borders," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "We've shown time and again that if there's a counterterrorism threat, we'll take direct action against that threat, if necessary."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday that if he determines the Islamic State militants in Iraq have become a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, he will recommend that the U.S. military move directly against the group in Syria.

But right now, Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters that he still believes the insurgent group is more of a regional threat -- and that it isn't planning attacks against the U.S. or Europe.

Dempsey did not rule out strikes for any other critical reasons, but listed a homeland threat as one of the key triggers for any military action in Syria.

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