Syria retains limited capability for chemical attack: Pentagon

Photo showing Defense Secretary James Mattis at the US Department of Defense in Arlington, Virginia, Apr 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2018
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Syria retains limited capability for chemical attack: Pentagon

  • No signs Assad regime is preparing new chemical attacks
  • Syria and Russia deny unleashing poison gas on April 7 during their offensive on Douma

WASHINGTON: The US State Deparmtment said on Thursday that Assad regime troops and their Russian ally have been cleaning up the site of chemical attack in Douma.  Earlier the Pentagon said on Thursday that while there were no signs the Syrian government was preparing to launch a chemical weapons attack, President Bashar Assad still retained the ability to launch limited attacks.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that US assessments following US, British and French joint missile strikes on Syria last weekend show they had only a limited impact on Assad’s ability to carry out chemical weapons attacks.
“They do retain a residual capability. It is probably spread throughout the country at a variety of sites,” said Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, joint staff director.
“They will have the ability to conduct limited attacks in the future, I would not rule that out,” McKenzie said during a Pentagon briefing.
The United States, France and Britain destroyed three targets tied to Syria’s weapons program. The most important of them was the Barzah Research and Development Center, which US intelligence concluded was involved in the production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology.
Syria and Russia deny unleashing poison gas on April 7 during their offensive on Douma, which ended with the recapture of the town that had been the last rebel stronghold near the capital, Damascus. The suspected chemical attack triggered the US response.
McKenzie said that the “absolute preponderance of the evidence” pointed to chemical weapons being present at the sites that were struck, including elements of sarin, particularly at the Barzah site.
He added that while the United States could not know with certainty, there was no evidence that any chemicals had escaped into the air after the strike.


Militants kidnap Christian in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

Police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident. (AP)
Updated 34 min 42 sec ago
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Militants kidnap Christian in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula

  • The attack took place about 30 km west of El-Arish

CAIRO: Extremist militants on Thursday kidnapped a Christian man traveling in a taxi in the turbulent north of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, according to security officials, an incident that raises the specter of renewed attacks on minority Christians in the region after a two-year lull.

The officials did not identify the man, but said police pursued the kidnappers into the desert to which they fled after the incident, killing one of them and wounding two others in a firefight, but could not free the hostage. Two policemen were also wounded in the firefight, said the officials.

There was no word on whether any of the other passengers traveling in the taxi, a minibus, were harmed, suggesting that the kidnapping of the Christian man could have been planned. 

The attack took place about 30 km west of El-Arish, northern Sinai’s largest city, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

A spate of attacks on Christians in northern Sinai in late 2016 and early 2017 forced nearly 300 families to flee their homes there and find refuge elsewhere in Egypt. 

Those killed included a cleric, workers, a doctor and a merchant. The last Christian to be killed in Sinai was in January 2018, when militants gunned him down as he walked on the street in El-Arish.

The militants, now led by Daesh, say they are punishing the Christians for their support of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

The spiritual leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Christians, whose ancient church is the country’s predominant Christian denomination, is a close ally of El-Sisi, who has made sectarian harmony a cornerstone of his domestic policy. 

El-Sisi’s patronage of the community has given Christians a measure of protection but did little to protect them from radicals, particularly in regions south of Cairo where Christians are a sizable minority.

Since 2016, Daesh militants have killed more than 100 Christians in attacks targeting churches and buses carrying pilgrims to remote desert monasteries. 

Also on Thursday, according to the officials, suspected militants sneaked into the parking lot of the main hospital in the city of Rafah on the Sinai border with the Gaza Strip and torched two vehicles before escaping. 

The incident was the latest in a recent spate of violent incidents in Rafah, most of whose residents have been evicted and compensated over the past year to deny the militants hiding places.

Nearly a year ago, the government threw into the battle against the Sinai militants thousands of troops, heavy armor, helicopter gunships and jet fighters in a bid to end the insurgency. 

The operation has significantly reduced the number of attacks and restored a near total normal life in El-Arish, on the Mediterranean coast.