US accuses Syria of chemical weapon attack in May in Idlib, sanctions firms aiding Russia

A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatment, after a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 26 September 2019

US accuses Syria of chemical weapon attack in May in Idlib, sanctions firms aiding Russia

  • The Assad regime used chlorine on May 19 as part of its deadly offensive in the last rebel stronghold of Idlib
  • US sanctions one entity for allegedly evading sanctions to help provide jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria

NEW YORK: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the United States had concluded the government of President Bashir Assad in Syria had used chlorine as a chemical weapon in an attack in May during a battle with insurgents in Idlib.
“The Assad regime is responsible for innumerable atrocities some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Pompeo told a news conference in New York, where he has been attending the United Nations General Assembly.
“Today I am announcing that the United States has concluded that the Assad regime used chlorine as a chemical weapon on May 19,” Pompeo said.
The United States said in May it had received numerous reports that appeared consistent with chemical exposure after an attack by Syrian government forces in northwest Syria, but it had made no definitive conclusion as to whether they used chemical weapons.
The Trump administration has twice bombed Syria over Assad’s suspected use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018.
The United States, Britain and France launched air strikes in April 2018 against what they described as three Syrian chemical weapons targets in retaliation for a suspected gas attack that killed scores of people in a Damascus suburb earlier that month.
Assad launched an offensive at the end of April this year on Idlib and parts of adjacent provinces, saying insurgents had broken a truce.
“This is different in some sense because it was chlorine... but know that President Trump has been pretty vigorous in protecting the world from the use of chemical weapons,” Pompeo said, said declining to say what the US response could be.
The United States on Thursday also imposed sanctions on a firm it said was participating in a scheme to avoid US sanctions while helping provide jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria.
The US Treasury Department said the newly sanctioned firm, Maritime Assistance LLC, was operating as a front company for OJSC Sovfracht, a company the United States had previously sanctioned in relation to operations in Ukraine.
The Treasury also targeted three individuals it said were tied to Sovfracht, freezing any assets they may hold in the United States and barring Americans from dealing with them.
Five ships were also designated as “blocked property” of previously sanctioned Russian firm Transpetrochart, which Washington alleges provides support to Sovfracht.
The United States accuses Sovfracht of being behind a sanctions-evasion conspiracy to make payments and facilitate the transfer of supplies of jet fuel to Russian forces operating in Syria in support of the government of President Bashar Assad.
Russia supports Assad in the more than eight-year-long Syrian war.


US lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

In this file photo taken on September 8, 2019 US troops walk past a Turkish military vehicle during a joint patrol with Turkish troops in the Syrian village of al-Hashisha on the outskirts of Tal Abyad town along the border with Turkish troops. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2019

US lawmakers set measure opposing Trump on Syria troop withdrawal

  • Senate and House aides said lawmakers were working on legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on Turkey, hoping to force Turkish President Erdogan to halt his military campaign in northeastern Syria

WASHINGTON: US Democratic lawmakers, joined by some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans, introduced a resolution on Tuesday opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, the latest sign of deep disapproval in Congress of his action.
“We have always maintained that, while certainly needed, a sanctions package alone is insufficient for reversing this humanitarian disaster,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement introducing the resolution.
In addition to Pelosi and Schumer, the resolution was led by Representatives Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mike McCaul, the committee’s top Republican.
It also is backed by Senators Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Todd Young, a Republican member of that panel.
Senate and House aides said lawmakers were working on legislation to impose stiffer sanctions on Turkey, hoping to force Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to halt his military campaign in northeastern Syria.
Several sanctions bills were introduced in the Senate and House, supported by Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans, before Trump said he would impose sanctions.
Trump announced a set of sanctions on Monday to punish Ankara, and a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday that Washington would threaten more sanctions to persuade Turkey to reach a cease-fire and halt its offensive. The measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had anticipated. Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact, and the Turkish currency recovered.