US warns Syria over chemical weapons ahead of troops withdrawal

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John Bolton is visiting Israel to offer reassurance over the troop withdrawal. (Reuters file photo)
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Victims of a chemical attack near Damascus in February 2018. (AFP file photo)
Updated 05 January 2019
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US warns Syria over chemical weapons ahead of troops withdrawal

  • Bolton made the warning shortly before landing in Tel Aviv
  • Donald Trump said in December that US troops were no longer needed in Syria after defeating Daesh

TEL AVIV: US National Security Adviser John Bolton has warned the Syrian government it should not see the impending US military withdrawal from the country as an invitation to use chemical weapons.
US President Donald Trump said in December that US troops had succeeded in their mission to defeat Daesh militants and were no longer needed in the country.
The announcement, which took officials in Washington and allies abroad by surprise, contributed to Jim Mattis’ decision to resign as US defense secretary and prompted concern that Daesh could stage a comeback.
“There is absolutely no change in the US position against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and absolutely no change in our position that any use of chemical weapons would be met by a very strong response, as we’ve done twice before,” Bolton told reporters on his plane shortly before landing in Tel Aviv, Israel.
“So the regime, the Assad regime, should be under no illusions on that question,” said Bolton, who is on a four-day trip to Israel and Turkey.
Trump has twice bombed Syria over the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018. In September a senior US official said there was evidence showing chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.
More than half a million people have died during the Syrian war and 11 million have been forced to flee their homes.
During his trip Bolton is set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. He said he was not suggesting Syria appeared ready to use chemical weapons.
“As we elaborate how the (US troop) withdrawal is going to occur and the circumstances, we don’t want the Assad regime to see what we do as representing any diminution in our opposition to the use of weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
If chemical weapons were to be used, “a lot of options would be on the table ... if they don’t heed the lessons of those two strikes the next one will be more telling,” Bolton said.


Netanyahu urges rival Gantz to form unity government

Updated 33 min 3 sec ago

Netanyahu urges rival Gantz to form unity government

  • Gantz is yet to respond to the approach by Netanyahu
  • The change of strategy reflected Netanyahu’s weakened position

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Thursday on his main rival, former general Benny Gantz, to join him in a broad, governing coalition after Israel’s election ended with no clear winner.
A spokeswoman for Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, had no immediate response to the surprise offer from Netanyahu, head of the right-wing Likud party.
The change of strategy reflected Netanyahu’s weakened position after he failed again in Tuesday’s election, which followed an inconclusive ballot in April, to secure a parliamentary majority.
“During the election campaign, I called for the establishment of a right-wing government but to my regret, the election results show that this is impossible,” Netanyahu said.
“Benny, we must set up a broad unity government, as soon as today. The nation expects us, both of us, to demonstrate responsibility and that we pursue cooperation.”
On Wednesday, Gantz said he hoped for a “good, desirable unity government.” But he has also ruled out forming one with a Netanyahu-led Likud, citing looming corruption charges against the prime minister. Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.