Trump: ‘big price to pay’ for Syria chemical weapons attack

President tells Russia and Iran responsible for animal Assad while UK and France call for United Nations security council meeting

Donald Trump cautioned there will be a” big cost to pay” for a chemical strike in a rebel-held Damascus suburb that killed at least 42 people on Saturday, as the UK and France called for an urgent session of the United Nation security council in reaction to the the attack.

The security council will satisfy twice on Monday. Russia, a backer of Bashar al-Assad, also called for a session.

The atrocity arrived amid a bombardment by regime planes, helicopters and cannon on different districts of Douma, which the European union said pointed to” yet another chemical assault by the regime” as it called for an international reaction.

At least 300 people were affected by the gas, medics in Douma told. Many of the 42 who died had been sheltering in the cellar of a building that was struck by a projectile soon after 7.30 pm. Ill-equipped local physicians said they treated patients for suffocation, foaming at the mouth, dilated pupils and burned eyes.

Victims of the ten-strike reported a strong odour of chlorine- an industrial chemical that has been dropped by regime helicopters throughout the war. However, Jerry Smith, a former UN weapons inspector who investigated previous chemical attacks in Syria, said the high death toll, the speed of demise and convulsions shown by some patients suggested another more lethal compound- maybe organophosphate based- may have been used.

Sarin is an organophosphate chemical that has been repeatedly used in Syria- including in a mass attack on Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017 and in Ghouta in August 2013. European intelligence agencies have collected evidence that regime officials have mixed sarin and chlorine, which dilutes the gas while ensuring it remains a potent killer- especially if being implemented in confined spaces.

US government sources, quoted by Reuters, said that an initial assessment identified that chemical weapons were used in the attack. The determination was built with a certain degree of confidence, said the sources, who stopped short of assigning blame.

Britain’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, described the developments as “deeply disturbing” and exhorted Russia not to obstruct an independent investigation. In a bellow with Vladimir Putin that took place before the two attacks, French leader Emmanuel Macron had agreed to” put an end to the military escalation of recent months “.

Macron has flagged” very clear red lines” over the use of chemical weapons. In a statement, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said he” denounced in the strongest terms” the Syrian regime’s siege of Douma:” The utilize of chemical arms is a war crime and a violation of the international non-proliferation regime. France, as the president of the Republic has said several times, will take all its responsibilities in terms of the fight against chemical proliferation .”

Trump demanded that access be opened to Douma, the last of three besieged districts in the Ghouta area of Damascus to remain under opposition control. Access was necessary to verify what had happened and treat remaining victims, he told, writing in a tweet:” President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area instantly for medical help and verification .”

His demand went a year to the day after he ordered a strike that insured 59 weapons crash into a Syrian air base thought to be the launching pad for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun. Trump had vowed to order another attack if chemicals were used again.

Mike Rounds of South Dakota, a member of the Senate armed services committee, signalled Republican support for a strike when he told NBC he believed Trump would now” have to send a message that he means what he said “. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee, told CBS there should be” an international reply “.

Rescue workers said they were attacked by airplanes as they tried to access the site in Douma. The bombing of the building where the civilians were concealing went amid a relentless assault local officials told targeted hospitals and civilian defence centres.

It appeared to be aimed at forcing the surrender of remaining rebels who have periodically shelled central Damascus in recent months. One such shelling killed at least six civilians on Friday, Syrian officials said. Opposition public officials and regional diplomats ascribed other motives to the use of gas, underpinned by a culture of impunity.

Smoke
Smoke billowed in the town of Douma on Saturday. Photograph: Stringer/ AFP/ Getty Images

” They do this when they think they’re being eluded, when they’ve just suffered a dishonour on the battlefield, or when they feel they need to assert psychological dominance ,” said a senior European official.” You can often feel the temperature rising before they do something like this. They think that the rest of the world is bluffing, and they are aware Russia and Iran will give them complete cover-up .”

The strike ordered by Trump after Khan Sheikhoun was largely symbolic, damaging runways and hangars that were quickly repaired Russia and Iran claimed the latest chemical assault was a” false flag “. Iran said it had been staged as a pretext for a US intervention. Syrian state media told rebels were in a state of collapse and spreading “fake” news.

A ground attack on Douma has so far failed, frustrating Syrian officials who have blockaded the rebel bastion for six years. Negotiations between regime officials and Jeysh al-Islam, which controls Douma, are reported to have restarted.

Trump’s recent announcement that the US would pull out of Syria ” very soon” has been widely read of the states of the region as the president losing interest in maintaining an American stake in trying to shape the conflict. The US has largely restricted its role since Trump’s election to fighting Islamic State in the east, stopping the small-scale military support to vetted groups that started under Barack Obama.

Both Trump and the American government offered little commentary as the other two districts of Ghouta fell to Russian and Syrian forces in March, during often indiscriminate bombardments that claimed at least 2,000 lives, many civilians. After being starved and bombed to submission, rebel groups and opposition communities from both areas have been bussed to Idlib province in northern Syria.

On Sunday, the Arizona Republican senator John McCain told Assad, Russia and Iran had been” emboldened by American inaction “.

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