Trump blames 'animal Assad' for Syria chemical attack
Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP
President Donald Trump blasted his counterpart Bashar Al-Assad as an "animal" on Sunday over a deadly chemical weapons attack blamed on the regime.
"Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria," he wrote in the first of three tweets. "Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price... ....to pay."
Top US military officials told i24NEWS that the Joint Chiefs of Staff was preparing Syrian attack options to present imminently to the president and National Security Council.
More than 80 people -- though some quoted as high as 150 -- were killed in strikes on Friday and Saturday targeting Douma, the last rebel enclave in Eastern Ghouta. An as yet unknown number of people, including children, died after suffocating from what first responders said was the deployment of a toxic gas.
"Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!" Trump exclaimed via tweet.
Along with Trump, aid groups, rebels, Turkey, and the EU put the blame on Assad, who has been fighting a civil war for some eight years to prop up his family's authoritarian rule over Syria.
Syria's foreign ministry on Sunday denounced accusations the government had deployed chemical weapons against a rebel-held town as an "unconvincing broken record".
"Allegations of chemical use have become an unconvincing broken record, except for some countries that trade with the blood of civilians and support terrorism in Syria," state news agency SANA quoted a ministry source as saying.
"Every time the Syrian Arab Army advances in the fight against terrorism, allegations of chemical use are used as an excuse to prolong the life of terrorists in Douma," it said.
Earlier on Saturday, the State Department took aim at Russia for its military and economic backing of the Syrian government, but the Kremlin has rejected claims that its ally Assad was responsible.
In April 2017, Trump ordered a targeted missile strike on a Syrian air base after another chemical weapons attack blamed on Damascus.
Former President Barack Obama came close to carrying out an intervention in Syria in 2013 after another chemical weapons attack -- which he said were a "red line" but stepped back from the brink after the British parliament refused to support the measure.
Trump seized on the comparison in a third tweet: "If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!"
- World Reacts -
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he was "deeply concerned" about renewed violence in the city of Douma, citing reports that sustained airstrikes and shelling had killed civilians, destroyed infrastructure and damaged health facilities.
"The secretary-general is particularly alarmed by allegations that chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations in Douma," the statement said.
While noting that the United Nations was not in a position to verify such reports, Guterres said that any confirmed use of chemical weapons would be "abhorrent."
He called on all parties to cease fighting and to provide "humanitarian access across Syria to all people in need."
Meanwhile the European Union and Turkey found Syria likely responsible for the attack.
"Evidence suggests that the Syrian regime has launched a chemical attack on Duma," an EU statement read.
France pledged to "do its duty" and has repeatedly warned that evidence of further use of chemical weapons in Syria is a "red line" that would prompt French strikes.
"The use of chemical weapons is a war crime," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement, adding that France had asked the UN Security Council to convene as soon as possible to examine the situation in Eastern Ghouta.
Turkey condemned the attack and said that the incident showed that past UN Security Council resolutions on the use of chemical weapons in Syria were "once again" being ignored.
"We strongly condemn the attack and we have the strong suspicion it was carried out by the regime, whose record on the use of chemical weapons is known by the international community," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
It called for an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and said it expected condemnation from the international community.
However in recent months, Turkey has been working tightly with the Syrian regime's closest allies Russia and Iran in a bid to bring an end to the seven-year civil war.
Last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hosted a summit on Syria in Ankara with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The foreign ministry statement did not explicitly refer to Russia and Iran, maintaining Turkey's caution in not lashing out at its partners.
But it called on "the parties who have influence over the Syrian regime" to ensure that such attacks are halted and punished.
It noted that "in the past no measures have been taken against these attacks".
(Staff with AFP)
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