Wahington: US President Donald Trump on Sunday condemned a “mindless CHEMICAL attack” in Syria that killed women and children, called Syrian President Bashar Assad an “animal” and delivered a rare personal criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin for supporting the Damascus regime.
Reuters, quoting a US government source, has reported that the US assessment, with some confidence, is that chemical weapons were used in the Syrian town.
As Washington continues to work to verify the claim by Syrian opposition activists and rescuers that poison gas was used, Trump said there would be a “big price to pay” for resorting to outlawed weapons of mass destruction.
A top White House aide, asked about the possibility of a US missile strike in response, said, “I wouldn’t take anything off the table.”
Just over a year ago, Trump ordered dozens of cruise missiles to be fired at a Syrian air base after declaring there was no doubt Assad had “choked out the lives of helpless” civilians in an attack that used banned gases.
White House advisers said at the time that images of hurt children helped spur the president to launch that air strike, and television news shows on Sunday aired similar depictions of suffering young Syrians.
Saturday’s attack took place in a rebel-held town near Damascus amid a resumed offensive by Syrian regime forces after the collapse of a truce. Syrian activists, rescuers and medics said a poison gas attack in Douma killed at least 40 people, with families found suffocated in their houses and shelters. The reports could not immediately be independently verified.
The developments come as Trump has moved to dramatically scale back US goals in Syria, pushing for a quick military withdrawal despite resistance from many of his national security advisers.
Trump has given no formal order to pull out the 2,000 US troops in Syria or offered a public timetable other than to say the US will withdraw as soon as the remaining Daesh fighters can be vanquished.
But Trump has signalled to his advisers that, ideally, he wants all troops out within six months.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said Assad heard Trump’s signal that he wanted to withdraw from Syria and, “emboldened by American inaction,” launched the attack. In a statement, McCain said Trump “responded decisively” last year with the air strike and urged Trump to be forceful again to “demonstrate that Assad will pay a price for his war crimes.”
Images released by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, a volunteer organization, show children lying on the ground motionless and foaming at the mouth. The Assad regime, in a statement posted on the state-run news agency SANA, denied responsibility.
Trump was briefed about the attack by his chief of staff, John Kelly, officials said. Trump’s homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, noted the timing of the suspected chemical attack — almost a year to the day of the US missile strikes.
“This isn’t just the United States. This is one of those issues on which every nation, all peoples, have all agreed and have agreed since World War II, it’s an unacceptable practice.