Calls for international action over alleged chemical attack in Syria

Calls grew for an international response to an alleged chemical weapon attack on a rebel-held Syrian town, with the United States warning that it was not excluding military action.

Buses carry rebels and their families who left Douma, at Wafideen camp in Damascus, Syria, April 9, 2018.

Calls grew Monday for an international response to an alleged chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held Syrian town, with the United States warning that it was not excluding military action.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday the US does not “rule out anything” in terms of a response, despite Russia arguing against jumping to any “dangerous” conclusions over the suspected attack.

With tensions high, the specter of Western military action was raised by deadly missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, but Damascus and Moscow said Israel was responsible.

The crisis was due to be discussed later at an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting, with the US and France promising a “strong, joint response” to the suspected gas attack on Saturday in Douma.

US President Donald Trump — who last year launched a missile strike on a Syrian base after another alleged chemical attack — warned after the latest accusations that there would be a “big price to pay.”

Damascus and Moscow have denied any use of chemical weapons, but French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said he and Trump had information “confirming” the gas attack.

Britain was the latest country to urge action Monday, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson calling for a “strong and robust international response.”

Russia, which has repeatedly said that rebels in Syria could be preparing a “provocation” to prompt foreign military action, warned against jumping to conclusions. 

“It’s necessary to examine very carefully what happened in Douma. And it goes without saying that without this information, making any deductions is wrong and dangerous,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Rescuers and medics in Douma say at least 48 people died after a “poisonous chlorine gas attack” late on Saturday in Douma, the last rebel-held pocket of the onetime opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta.

Access to the area, which has faced weeks of bombardment, is limited and there has been no way to independently verify the accounts.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a UN watchdog, said it was investigating but that so far only a “preliminary analysis” had been carried out.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russian experts had visited the site of the alleged attack and “did not find any trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians.”

Both Damascus and Moscow had warned against using the allegations to justify military action against President Bashar al-Assad.

It briefly appeared in the early hours Monday that action had been taken, as Syrian state media reported missile strikes on an airbase, but blame later fell on Israel which has carried out repeated strikes on Syrian targets. Initially pointing the finger at Washington, state news agency SANA said the missiles had hit the T-4 airbase in central Syria.

Washington and Paris denied having carried out the strikes and SANA and the Russian army said later that Israeli F-15s had fired many missiles at the base from Lebanese airspace.

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