Haley: US saw preparations in Syria similar to April chemical attack

Frederick Owens
June 27, 2017

The White House warned late Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his military would pay a "heavy price" for another chemical weapons attack.

Assad has denied responsibility for that attack in the rebel-held Idlib province that killed dozens of people, and Russia, Assad's key backer, sided with him. President Donald Trump responded by launching cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria believed to be the source of the weapons.

Syria has denied White House allegations that it may be preparing a new chemical attack, insisting again that it has never used such arms. "If, however, Mr Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price".

Ali Haidar, the minister for national reconciliation, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the White House statement foreshadowed a "diplomatic battle" that would be waged against Syria in the halls of the UN.

"I am not aware of any information about a threat that chemical weapons can be used", Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

But the Pentagon said on Tuesday said it detected "active preparations" by Syria for a chemical weapons attack, giving weight to the White House statement.

Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn't appear to be discussed in advance with other national security agencies.

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"If in this case another chemical attack follows and Assad will be accused of this, then there will be air strikes of the U.S. Air Force against Assad's army targets, which is obviously the next stage of provocation", RIA Novosti quoted Slutsky as saying.

Is there another chemical weapons attack on the horizon?

Although the intelligence was not considered conclusive, Washington made a decision to issue the public warning to the Syrian leadership to try to deter such a strike, said the official, who declined to discuss the issue further.

The US launched a fierce riposte in the aftermath of the chemical attack launched by Assad's forces in April - which was condemned across the world - and says it will not hesitate to take action should another similar strike take place.

The U.S. military shotdown a Syrian jet earlier this month.

Conclusive evidence of regime involvement in the April chemical attack has not been found, with both Syria and Russian Federation denying the allegations made. Russia's Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory.

British Defence Minister Michael Fallon said London would support USA action to prevent a chemical weapons attack but that it had not seen the intelligence on which Washington based Monday's statement.

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