US ready to hit Syrian chemical weapons
TRUMP administration officials claim the Syrian Government may be creating new kinds of chemical weapons, despite a 2013 agreement to destroy such a program.
The officials said the administration was prepared to take military action to deter the use of such weapons in Syria's near seven-year civil war.
"It will spread if we don't do something,” warned an official who wanted to remain anonymous.
The US and Russia agreed in 2013 to destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal by 2014. UN Security Council resolutions and the Chemical Weapons Convention ban such weapons.
However it was "highly likely” that Syria had stockpiled some of its weapons after the 2013 intervention, the Trump administration officials said in a briefing reported by Reuters.
The officials said the characteristics of recent alleged attacks suggested the creation of new, different chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad's government. They believe the government is developing these weapons to improve their military capability, or to escape international accountability.
More recent attacks have involved both chlorine, which has non-warfare uses and is easier to acquire, and the more sophisticated chemical sarin, the officials said. The US believes it has a firm understanding of the extent of chemical use in Syria through a combination of intelligence, sample testing by third countries and social media and other open-source information, the officials said.
The news came shortly after scientists for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said they had linked samples from the 2013 attack to the Assad government's stockpile, suggesting the government had been behind the attack all along. The scientists said the samples also matched those taken from the site of another alleged chemical attack last year.
President Donald Trump ordered an air strike on Syria in April after a suspected chemical weapons attack killed more than 100 people.
It was a departure from Mr Trump's typically non-interventionist foreign policy.
The US raised concerns Mr Assad had used the weapons against his people again last month in an attack on the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta.
The alleged attack killed 20 civilians, most of whom were children.
The US State Department blamed Russia for their "unwillingness or inability to restrain the Assad regime”.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: "Russia's failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its relevance to the resolution of the overall crisis”.
"Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in Eastern Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria,” Mr Tillerson said.
A war monitor said at least 20 civilians were killed in Syrian government air strikes on rebel-held territory in the country's north on Thursday and three children were killed in artillery strikes on Eastern Ghouta.
State news agency SANA said seven people died in apparent retaliatory shelling of nearby government-held Damascus.
- Emily Shugerman, The Independent