U.S. President Trump vowed to respond to a “heinous” suspected nerve gas attack on Syrian civilians, saying he would decide within 48 hours, adding: “Nothing’s off the table,”The Times reports. Trump called the strike on Douma that killed scores of people “an atrocious attack” and said that President Putin would “pay a price” if Russia were deemed culpable.
“If it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all them together, we’ll figure it out and we’ll know the answers quite soon,” he said. Asked if Mr Putin would still pay a price he answered: “Everybody’s going to pay a price. He will, everybody will.”
Asked last night about the US response, Trump said: “It will be met and it will be met forcefully. We’ll let you know soon, probably after the fact.”
His remarks came as his cabinet gathered at the White House before an emergency meeting of the United Nations security council called in response to the attack. The U.S. presented the council with a resolution calling for a fact-finding mission to determine whether chemical weapons were used and a further investigation to determine who was responsible.
Trump also discussed the incident with French President Emmanuel Macron late on Monday, and both leaders expressed a desire for a “firm response”, the Elysee Palace said as quoted by BBC. The AFP news agency quoted French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux as saying on Tuesday that “if a red line had been crossed, there will be a response”, adding that intelligence shared by the two leaders “in theory confirms the use of chemical weapons”. In February Macron threatened to strike Syria if proof emerged of the use of chemical weapons.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said she “utterly condemns” the “barbaric” alleged chemical weapons attack and called for backers of President Bashar al-Assad to be held to account.
The condemnation from Western leaders follows a tense meeting at the UN Security Council in which the U.S. and Russia traded harsh words over the incident, CBS News adds. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the suspected chemical attack in Syria. The U.S. is urging the council to adopt a new resolution that would condemn the continuing use of chemical weapons in Syria “in the strongest terms” and establish a new body to determine responsibility for chemical attacks.
The draft resolution, obtained Monday by CBS News, singles out Saturday’s attack on Douma in the Damascus suburbs, and expresses “outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons” in Syria and “determination that those responsible must be held accountable.” It was circulated ahead of Monday’s emergency Security Council meeting. After a bitter debate full of recriminations and threats in open chamber, Security Council diplomats went into closed-door consultations to see if there was anything to salvage from the three proposals on a way forward.
“The United States is pushing for a vote tomorrow. The U.S. position was that they were negotiating in good faith but the world is watching for the Council to act… The U.S. said it took many of Russia’s concerns into account with its draft and was ready to work with all council members to find consensus on this issue, but that we need to move quickly,” a Security Council diplomat told CBS News.
In a confusing response, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, angrily denied that there had been an attack at all and accused the rebels of staging it before offering to allow the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into Douma under Russian military escort.
The Russian military’s Reconciliation Center in Syria said it has sent officers into Douma to negotiate with the rebels there. It says experts inspected the areas in Douma where chemical agents were allegedly used and found no trace of them. They also inspected Douma’s hospital and found no patients with chemical poisoning symptoms. The Russian military denounced the White Helmets, opposition-linked first responders who reported the attack and the death toll. It called them “shameless rebel accomplices,” saying they made false allegations to derail a local truce.
Meanwhile, The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it was investigating the Douma attack allegations, but that so far only a “preliminary analysis” had taken place, France24 adds. Syrian regime forces have carried out an offensive against Ghouta since February 18 that has killed more than 1,700 civilians and cornered rebels in their last holdout of Douma.
After capturing most of Ghouta, Syria and Russia secured two negotiated withdrawals last month that saw 46,000 rebels and civilians evacuate. Following fraught negotiations and a regime bombing blitz, state media announced Sunday a deal for Jaish al-Islam to leave Douma within 48 hours and release hostages. A group of detainees arrived in Damascus overnight Monday to Tuesday after being freed by Jaish al-Islam, state news agency SANA said.
In a parallel operation, 65 buses carrying fighters and civilians left the outskirts of Ghouta and headed to northern Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.