Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Pentagon: 'Active preparations' by Syria for chemical attack

Published:Wednesday | June 28, 2017 | 6:00 AM
Sean Spicer

Pentagon: 'Active preparations' by Syria for chemical attack

WASHINGTON (AP):

The Pentagon said yesterday that it has detected "active preparations" by Syria for a chemical weapons attack, giving weight to a White House threat that the Syrian government would "pay a heavy price" if it carried out such an attack.

The US accusation and ominous warning marked a further escalation of tensions in a country where the US is using Syrian Arab and Kurdish proxy soldiers to combat the Islamic State group in its remaining strongholds, even as Russia and Iran work to support President Bashar Assad, who has gained the upper hand in a long civil war.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt Jeff Davis, said the US had seen "activity" at Shayrat airfield that "indicated active preparations for chemical weapons use". That is the same base from which the Syrian air force launched an attack in April that the US and others said used lethal chemicals to kill civilians. Syria denied the charge.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said the White House warning was meant for a wider audience.

"The goal is at this point not just to send Assad a message, but to send Russia and Iran a message," Haley told a House panel. "That if this happens again, we are putting you on notice. My hope is that the president's warning will certainly get Iran and Russia to take a second look, and I hope that it will caution Assad."

MASS MURDER

Assad's government and Russia dismissed the White House allegation. Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that "such threats to Syria's legitimate leaders are unacceptable". Russia is Assad's key backer and sided with him when he denied responsibility for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Idlib province on April 4.

The US responded to that attack by hitting the airfield with dozens of cruise missiles. In the days following, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis cautioned that the US was prepared to take further action if Syria repeated such chemical weapons use.

A Monday evening statement by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the US had "identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children".

Spicer said the activities were similar to preparations taken before the April attack, but he provided no evidence or further explanation. The Monday evening statement caught many administration officials by surprise.