Trump holds Assad, Russia responsible for Syria chemical attack, White House says
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White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that US President Donald Trump holds Russia and Syria responsible for a suspected chemical attack in Douma and said all options were still on the table for a US response.
"The president holds [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad and the Russians responsible for the attack," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters, adding that the US president was still mulling a response.
"All options are on the table," Sanders said when asked about a potential US riposte. "Final decisions have not been made on that front."
Sanders said Vice President Mike Pence had chaired a meeting of Trump's national security team on Wednesday afternoon.
Trump tweeted earlier that "missiles will be coming" in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria and added that Russia should “get ready”.
Sanders said Trump had a number of options, not just military, and that he was assessing how to respond.
She also denied that his Twitter threats had created any problem.
Syria's Foreign Ministry said Washington is using the alleged chemical attack as a pretext to target Syria.
"We are not surprised by this reckless escalation from a regime like the one in the United States, which has and continues to sponsor terrorism in Syria," said the statement, carried by state media.
Russia threatens retaliation
Trump and other Western leaders have vowed a quick and forceful response to Saturday's alleged gas attack, which rescue workers say killed more than 40 people.
The United States, Britain and France say the incident bears all the hallmarks of a strike ordered by the regime, which has been blamed for previous attacks by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
British Prime Minister Theresa May has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Thursday to discuss how to respond to the Douma attack.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has been coordinating closely with Washington, is to decide on a response in the coming days, having insisted he does "not want an escalation" and that any response would focus on Syria's chemical capabilities, not on allies of the regime.
Russia has said claims of a chemical weapons attack were fabricated and threatened to retaliate if its allies in Damascus are threatened.
"If there is a US strike ... the missiles will be downed as well as the sources they were fired from," Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin said.
'Out of control'
With the UN Security Council failing thus far to find a diplomatic solution, Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned Wednesday time was running out.
"Today, I called the Ambassadors of the five Permanent Members of the Security Council to reiterate my deep concern about the risks of the current impasse and stressed the need to avoid the situation spiraling out of control," he said, referring to the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain.
Moscow and Washington have so far vetoed each other's motions to set up an international investigation into chemical weapons use.
Opponents of unilateral US action called an emergency closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council for later Thursday.
Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, told Euronews that the suspected chemical attack in Syria was a “staged event” by those working with the White Helmets, a volunteer humanitarian aid NGO. A spokesperson for the White Helmets, formally called Syria Civil Defence, told Newsweek that the group categorically rejects the claims.
The top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader also said that Tehran would support Damascus against any “foreign aggression”, in an apparent response to Trump’s comments about a possible military strike in Syria.
“We will stand by Syria’s government against any foreign aggression ... Iran backs Syria in its fight against America and the Zionist Regime (Israel),” Ali Akbar Velayati told state TV during a visit to Syria's Eastern Ghouta.
The Interfax news agency reported Wednesday that Moscow is in direct contact with the US Joint Chiefs of Staff about the situation in Syria, citing Vladimir Shamanov, head of the lower house of parliament's defence committee.
The OPCW has said it will hold an emergency session on Monday to discuss the suspected gas attack in Syria's Douma and that it will send a delegation to Douma "shortly".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)