US will ‘respond swiftly’ if Assad uses chemical weapons

Smoke billow from buildings on fire after being hit by alleged Russian air strikes in the rebel-held town of Muhambal, about 30 kilometers southwest of the city of Idlib on Sept. 4, 2018. (AFP / OMAR HAJ KADOUR)
Updated 06 September 2018

US will ‘respond swiftly’ if Assad uses chemical weapons

  • The warning came amid signs that Syrian President Bashar Assad was preparing an offensive in Idlib province
  • Mattis says there is ‘zero intelligence’ that opposition fighters have such capability

WASHINGTON: The US warned Syria Tuesday it will respond “swiftly and appropriately” if it uses chemical weapons against its people.

The warning came amid signs that Syrian President Bashar Assad was preparing an offensive in Idlib province that the UN has said poses the threat of a humanitarian disaster.

“Let us be clear, it remains our firm stance that if President Bashar Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its allies will respond swiftly and appropriately,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement.

The White House was “closely monitoring the situation in Idlib province, Syria, where millions of innocent civilians are under threat of an imminent Assad regime attack, backed by Russia and Iran,” Sanders said.

“President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” she added.

Separately, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there was “zero intelligence” of chemical weapons capabilities possessed by groups opposing Assad in Idlib,  adding that the facts did not back Russian assertions.

In the past few days, Russian officials, cited by Russian media, have said there was a plan by “militants” to stage a false chemical weapons attack in Idlib province to frame Assad.

“We have zero intelligence that shows the opposition has any chemical capability,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him to the Indian capital of New Delhi.

Russia's Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov said he had told US officials that Moscow was concerned over signs the US was preparing new strikes on Syria and warned against “groundless and illegal aggression against Syria.”

“We have made very clear that by putting out innuendo that somehow any chemical weapon use coming up in the future could be ascribed to the opposition, well, we want to see the data,” Mattis said. “We cannot see anything that indicates the opposition has that capability.” He said instead there was a history of Assad's regime using such weapons.

US President Donald Trump has twice ordered US-led strikes against targets in Syria in response to what Washington called the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Asked if he saw indications of the Syrian regime preparing to use chemical weapons in Idlib, Mattis said, “I think the best answer to that is, we are very alert.”

Sputnik, a Russian state-owned news outlet, said recently the White Helmets rescue service had delivered a large shipment of toxic substances to “local armed militant groups.”

The Pentagon said the Russian government was using a “concentrated disinformation campaign” to discredit the US and its allies.

“That Russia is seeking to plant false lies about chemical weapons use suggests that Moscow is seeking to deflect from its own culpability when these heinous weapons are used,” Commander Sean Robertson, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

Bahrain says conference co-hosted with US aimed at helping Palestinians

Updated 21 May 2019

Bahrain says conference co-hosted with US aimed at helping Palestinians

DUBAI: Bahrain said Tuesday a peace conference it is co-hosting next month with the US is aimed at helping the Palestinians, who have criticized the kingdom for failing to consult them about the event.
The conference “serves no other purpose” than to help the Palestinian people “through developing their abilities and enhancing their resources,” said Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa.
The kingdom “remains supportive of the brotherly Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate rights on their land as well as establishing an independent state with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Bahrain’s top diplomat said in a statement.
The White House announced Sunday it would co-host the June 25-26 conference with Bahrain focusing on economic aspects of the long-delayed US peace plan, with the declared aim of achieving Palestinian prosperity.
“We were not consulted by any party on the announced meeting to take place in Manama, Bahrain,” Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement.
“We have not mandated any party to negotiate on our behalf.”
The Palestinians have boycotted the US administration since President Donald Trump broke with decades of consensus and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.
They consider the eastern part of the city the capital of their future state and have shown little interest in the US peace plan, which they fear will be heavily biased in favor of Israel.
Dubbed “Peace for Prosperity,” the conference is expected to bring together leaders from several governments, civil society and the business sector.
Trump’s office said the conference was a “pivotal opportunity... to share ideas, discuss strategies, and galvanize support for potential economic investments and initiatives that could be made possible by a peace agreement.”
The Palestinians see this as offering financial rewards in exchange for accepting ongoing Israeli occupation.
“Attempts at promoting an economic normalization of the Israeli occupation of Palestine will be rejected,” Erekat said.