White House warns Syria may be readying chemical attack

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The White House charged late Monday that Syria seemed to be making preparations for a chemical attack and warned strongman Bashar Assad that he and his regime “will pay a heavy price” for any mass slaughter of civilians.

The unusual statement, attributed to press secretary Sean Spicer, did not include any details of how or what the United States knew about the possible attack, nor how confident U.S. officials were that Assad might carry it out.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” Spicer said.

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.  If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” the spokesman said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Moscow and Tehran would bear some responsibility for any new attack by the regime in Damascus.

“Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people,” she said on Twitter.

Spicer said that the activities detected were “similar to preparations the regime made” before an April 4, 2017, chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians, including children, in a mostly rebel-controlled area near the Turkish border. That strike led President Trump to rain cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield in retaliation — believed to be the first direct American strike on Syrian government assets since the start of the country’s civil war.

Since then, tensions with Russia, Syria’s patron, have escalated. There have been several known instances of U.S. forces firing on Syrian government targets in recent weeks, including the early April cruise missile strike. One week ago, a U.S. Navy fighter shot down a Syrian warplane. Russia has warned it will treat aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS as potential targets if they fly over Assad-controlled zones west of the Euphrates River.

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