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Trump says 'major decisions' coming on Syria in '24-48 hours' after alleged chemical attack

Nicholas Kamm, AFP | US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 9, 2018.

US President Donald Trump said Monday that "major decisions" would be made on a Syria response in the next day or two, after warning that Damascus would have a "big price to pay" over an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town.

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Trump condemned what he called a "heinous attack on innocent" Syrians in Douma, as he opened a cabinet meeting at the White House.

This comes after United States on Monday asked the UN Security Council to set up a new independent inquiry of chemical weapons attacks in Syria following alleged toxic gas use in a rebel-held town that killed at least 48 people.

Washington circulated a draft resolution to the council that would establish the UN panel to identify those responsible for poisonous chemicals attacks, according to the text obtained by AFP.

Nine countries including the United States, France and Britain, have called for an emergency meeting on Syria that will begin at 3:00pm (1900 GMT) to discuss a response to the attack in Douma.

As the United States pushed for a new UN inquiry, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned that Washington does not "rule out anything", in response to the alleged chemical attack.

President Donald Trump said "major decisions" would be made concerning Syria in the coming "24-48 hours."

Trump -- who last year launched a missile strike on a Syrian air base after sarin was used in the town of Khan Sheikhun -- warned after the latest accusations that there would be a "big price to pay".

Rescuers and medics in Douma say at least 48 people died after a "poisonous chlorine gas attack" late on Saturday in Douma, the last rebel-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta.

Excuse for military action

"The US resolution is pretty obviously a bait for the Russians, who will have no choice but to veto it," said Richard Gowan, a UN expert from the European Council of Foreign Relations.

"That will give the US and possibly France an excuse for military action," said Gowan.

"All sides know what is going on, and the Russians have actually been predicting US military action over Ghouta for some time. We just have to hope that Moscow will not overreact when the strikes come."

The renewed US push to establish the United Nations Independent Mechanism of Investigation (UNIMI) comes after Russia killed off a previous UN-led probe in November by vetoing the renewal of its mandate.

Under the current draft resolution, UNIMI would be established for one year and work with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to identify perpetrators of the chemical attacks.

The council would ask UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to outline within 30 days the operation of the panel "based on the principles of impartiality, independence and professionalism," according to the draft text.

In January, Russia presented its own draft resolution setting up a new panel, but Western powers said Moscow's proposal would give the Syrian government an upper hand over any investigation of attacks on its territory.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had dispatched military experts to the scene and that they had not found any trace of chlorine or of any other chemical.

Peru's Ambassador Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, who holds the council presidency this month, urged council unity and a "peaceful resolution" of the crisis.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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