- SANA/Handout via REUTERS
The White House on Monday night issued an ominous warning to Syria, saying it believed President Bashar Assad’s government may be preparing a new chemical weapons attack.
“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,” a statement from the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017, chemical weapons attack.
“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.”
Specifics about what led to the US’s suspicions were not immediately clear, and Spicer did not elaborate beyond the statement. Some US military officials were caught off guard by the White House statement Monday night, according to The New York Times. The newspaper noted that it was not clear how closely held the intelligence about a possible attack may have been.
The Trump administration in April ordered missile strikes on an airfield in Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed at least 80 civilians. The April missile strikes targeted the Shayrat airfield and nearby military infrastructure controlled by Assad.
Trump received some positive reactions from US lawmakers for his decision to take military action against Syria. Several countries – including Turkey, Israel, France, Germany, Australia, Italy, and Saudi Arabia – also expressed support.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is a close ally of Assad, criticized the US, briefly ramping up tensions between Russia and the Trump administration. Russia sent additional warships to Syria as a result. Iran, another Syrian ally, called the strike “destructive and dangerous,” while the Syrian government said it was “foolish and irresponsible.”
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said in response to the White House’s statement Monday night: “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.”