US warns Assad regime, Russia against chemical weapons attacks
Senior US officials warned the Russian and Syrian regime against chemical weapons use in Syria on Tuesday as forces allied with dictator Bashar al-Assad prepare for an offensive on a rebel stronghold.
The United States “will respond to any verified chemical weapons use in Idlib or elsewhere in Syria ... in a swift and appropriate manner,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in Washington.
Nauert said senior US officials engaged with their Russian counterparts to “to make this point very clear to Damascus.” She said the use of chemical weapons “will not be tolerated.”
She said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week that Moscow — a military ally of Assad — would be held responsible.
The Syrian government is gearing up for an expected offensive in Idlib province, which is home to nearly 3 million people.
US President Donald Trump has twice ordered airstrikes in Syria in response to chemical weapons attacks there. Trump said the strikes were intended to deter Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad from launching chemical weapons attacks again.
At the Pentagon, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis referred to those two airstrikes but offered no further information Tuesday on how the US was responding to the situation, other than to cite the State Department’s “recent active communication with Russia to enlist them in preventing this.”
In April, the United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish Assad for an apparent attack using chlorine against civilians in the Damascus suburb of Douma. And in 2017 Trump authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.
The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Assad family, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.
According to independent assessments, brutal tactics pursued mainly by the Russian-backed regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians, amount to war crimes.