Trump: 'Major decisions' on Syria in '24-48 hours'

Trump: 'Major decisions' on Syria in '24-48 hours'
The US has warned it is not excluding military action as calls grow for an international response to an alleged gas attack by the Assad regime which left dozens dead.
4 min read
09 April, 2018
Donald Trump had promised a "big price to pay" for the suspected chemical attack [Getty]

US President Donald Trump said on Monday that "major decisions" would be made on a Syria response in the next day or two, after warning that Damascus would have a "big price to pay" over an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town.

Trump condemned what he called a "heinous attack on innocent" Syrians in Douma, as he opened a cabinet meeting at the White House. 

The suspected gas attack left dozens dead, according to rescuers and medics. Syria and its ally Russia have denied any use of chemical weapons, while global watchdog OPCW has launched an investigation.

"This is about humanity - it can't be allowed to happen," Trump said, adding that decisions would come in the "next 24-48 hours".

Military action in Syria would not be ruled out, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said earlier on Monday.

"The first thing we have to look at is why are chemical weapons still being used at all when Russia was the framework guarantor of removing all the chemical weapons," Mattis said at the Pentagon in a meeting with his Qatari counterpart. 

"Working with our allies and our partners from NATO to Qatar and elsewhere, we are going to address this issue ... I don't rule out anything right now."

Graphic images and videos emerged on social media following Saturday's alleged gas attack, showing children struggling to breathe and entire families who had succumbed to the attack on the floors of underground shelters.

Damascus has denied using any chemical weapons in the seven-year conflict, blaming the rebels on using it on themselves. Long-time ally Russia has also denied the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and called into question the results of the OPCW inquiries with officials in Moscow claiming that the rebels staged the attacks to discredit the Syrian government and whip up international condemnation.

Earlier in the year, a report linked Syria's largest sarin nerve agent attack in August 2013, which left hundreds dead, to the Syrian regime chemical stockpile.

Damascus joined the OPCW and agreed to destroy its 1,300-tonne stockpile of industrial munition following a US-Russian deal.

Despite agreeing to the deal, inspectors have found evidence of an ongoing chemical weapons programme in the country, including systematic use of chlorine barrel bombs and sarin.

New UN inquiry

Washington asked the UN Security Council on Monday to set up a new independent inquiry of chemical weapons attacks in Syria. A draft resolution circulated to the council calls on the UN panel to identify those responsible for the toxic gas attacks.

Previously, Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State had said Russia "ultimately bears responsibility" for such strikes, ratcheting up the pressure against Syrian regime backer Moscow.

"Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria," he said.

"There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the US as a framework guarantor" overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, as agreed in September 2013, he added.

Russian response

Moscow on Monday warned against jumping to conclusions after its experts claimed they found no traces of chemical weapons.

"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 told journalists.

He said it was too early to judge because "no one has exhaustive information" and no investigation carried out, although Russia has already sent military experts to the scene.

Peskov suggested that the attack could have been staged by rebels to pin the blame on Damascus, a claim frequently touted by Moscow.

Eastern Ghouta has been under a ruthless seven-week assault that devastated the area and killed more than 1,700 civilians, allowing Assad's forces to gain control of more than 90 percent of the former rebel stronghold.

Around 500,000 people have died and millions made homeless in seven years of fighting in Syria, which was sparked when regime forces brutally put down peaceful protests in 2011.