Putin’s Syria warning to Trump
RUSSIA has issued a stark warning to the West over talks on attacking Syria, advising the United States and its allies to "seriously consider" the consequences of their threats.
Moscow took the step after the US, France, Germany and United Kingdom held consultations on launching a military strike as early as the end of this week.
The talks come in response to the devastating chemical attack allegedly carried out by the Syrian government against its people, with Vladimir Putin's support.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad denies responsibility for the horrifying scenes in Douma, near the capital of Damascus, where at least 43 died and more were hospitalised struggling to breathe.
Moscow politicians warned the US that Russia would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime. Russia's ambassador to Lebanon said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launching sites targeted - signalling a potential major confrontation.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "We call upon ... members of the international community to seriously consider the possible consequences of such accusations, threats and especially action [against Syria]."
Russia's United Nations ambassador said the priority was to avoid a war in Syria, but did not rule out the possibility of a US-Russian conflict.
French President Emmanuel Macron has discussed action with Donald Trump several times this week, saying he has proof the Syrian government launched the chlorine gas attacks and France will not tolerate "regimes that think everything is permitted."
UK Prime Minister Theresa May held a cabinet meeting to decide whether Britain should join possible military action and reportedly ordered submarines to move within missile range of Syria in readiness for strikes. The BBC reported that Mrs May was ready to give the go-ahead for Britain to take part.
During his interview with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr Trump's pick for US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, confirmed that "a couple hundred Russians were killed" by US forces in Syria earlier this year.
Asked whether the President had authority to strike Syria without congressional permission, he answered: "Yes, I believe he does."
'THERE IS DEATH ALL AROUND YOU'
More than 40 were killed and dozens more fell dangerously sick after suspected chenical attacks on the Damascus suburb of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, this weekend.
The State Department said the symptoms reported were "consistent with an asphyxiation agent and of a nerve agent of some type" and investigators are headed to the scene.
Local student Mohammed al-Hanash told the New York Times: "You imagine yourself on Judgment Day, and there is death all around you. It was a scene that you don't want anyone to have to see: old men, women and children screaming and suffering."
But Russian troops in Douma said no evidence of chemical weapons use was found.
The US President tweeted on Sunday following the alleged strike: "Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President [Vladimir] Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price..."
He has spent the days since foreshadowing drastic military retaliation against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, who he has repeatedly referred to as an "animal".
Mr Trump today warned Russia to "get ready" for an attack, but then backtracked on the threat, tweeting that the apparently imminent attack on Syria could come "very soon or not so soon at all", leaving the world in a state of confusion.
The US President's escalating rhetoric appears to contradict his previous insistence America needed to be less "predictable" in its military operations and keep its targets guessing. In the days before the November 2016 election, the then-presidential candidate said Hillary Clinton's plan for Syria and Russia "could very well lead to World War III."
Whether he is bluffing or double-bluffing, it seems that a strike is imminent.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would not take part in possible military action "but we see, and support this, that everything is being done to send a signal that this use of chemical weapons is not acceptable."
Since World War II, Germany tends to limit itself to supporting roles rather than military action, but she said that the violation of international rules against chemical weapons was serious.
"If the permanent representatives in the (UN) Security Council were to initiate steps ... going beyond the diplomatic dimension, then we will be supportive," she added.
TENSION READY TO EXPLODE
The tensions within Syria have the potential to explode into an international conflict at any moment.
Rebels in Eastern Ghouta have surrendered their arms and begun to evacuate the area at the end of the deadliest assault in the country's seven year civil war, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
US troops arrived in Syria in 2015 and there are now around 2000 soldiers in the country, according to the Pentagon, mostly concentrated on fighting the Islamic State in the country's north-east.
As the dregs of IS hold out in the east, Russian and Iranian soldiers are supporting Mr Assad's forces in the war in other parts of Syria.
US troops have mostly stayed away from Russian and Iranian forces, but there have been several battles over the past year. In June 2017, a US jet shot down a Syrian warplane that was trying to bomb American-backed fighters.
Around a year ago, Mr Trump responded to a sarin gas airstrike by Mr Assad on civilians by launching 59 missiles at an airfield in western Syria.
The US government had video and other evidence the regime was behind the attack.
This time, the New York Times claims that videos, flight records compiled by citizens and interviews with locals and rescue workers suggest pro-government forces dropped the chemical compound during a military push to break the will of Douma's rebels.
United Nations humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told Reuters on Thursday that he was hoping this would allow the UN to get help at least 100,000 desperate Syrians within the rebel stronghold, allowing those who want to leave to be evacuated.
Russia and the West are now at loggerheads over alleged Russian meddling in the US election and Moscow's alleged poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in Britain.
Western troops have been gathering in Syria and forging alliances with rebels as they support them in pushing out the terrorist organisation.
As more world powers unite over this conflict, there is now far more at stake.
- With wires