Saturday 21 October 2017

US squares up to Assad after chemical attack on own civilians

Trump raises the threat of military action over 'heinous' sarin strike

Syrians bury the bodies of victims of the suspected gas attack in the city of Idlib. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Syrians bury the bodies of victims of the suspected gas attack in the city of Idlib. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Barney Henderson, Nick Allen and Gordon Raynor

Donald Trump last night raised the prospect of military action against the Syrian regime after he said that Bashar al-Assad has "crossed a lot of lines" and the US has a "responsibility" to act.

The US president said Tuesday's chemical weapons attack, which intelligence officials say was undoubtedly launched by regime war planes, was an "affront to humanity".

At least 86 people were killed, 30 of whom were children, in the sarin gas attack in the rebel-held Idlib province.

The US response to the attack is being viewed as Mr Trump's first major foreign policy test.

Speaking at a White House press conference yesterday, the president suggested that the US would now respond to the Assad regime. When asked how he planned to respond, Mr Trump told reporters: "You'll see."

He also said yesterday: "I now have that responsibility and I will carry it very proudly."

Turkish experts carry a victim of alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syrian city of Idlib. AP Photo
Turkish experts carry a victim of alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syrian city of Idlib. AP Photo

Mr Trump's comments came after Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, condemned the UN Security Council's failure to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

"When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action," she said.

Mr Trump said: "Yesterday's chemical attack, a chemical attack so horrific in Syria against innocent people including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies, their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.

"The US stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack."

Experts attend to some of the victims at a local hospital in Hatay, Turkey. Photo: IHA via AP
Experts attend to some of the victims at a local hospital in Hatay, Turkey. Photo: IHA via AP

In his comments Mr Trump did not once mention Russia, the Assad regime's key ally.

The White House had said only last week that US policy on Syria was no longer focused on ousting Mr Assad. However, Tuesday's attack has dramatically changed Mr Trump's position.

"It had a big impact on me. It was a horrible, horrible thing. I've been watching it and it doesn't get any worse than that," he said. "My attitude to Syria and Assad has changed very much. You are now talking about a whole different level. What happened yesterday is unacceptable to me. You will see. They will have a message, you will see what the message will be."

A man collects samples from the site of the attack in Idlib. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A man collects samples from the site of the attack in Idlib. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

One option would be for Mr Trump to order surgical strikes on regime air bases using surface-to-air missiles, defence sources said.

Any direct US military intervention is unlikely to involve what could develop into a protracted conflict. Mr Trump has regularly condemned lengthy and costly US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I would love to have never been in the Middle East," he said yesterday.

Asked whether Britain might respond by bombing targets in Syria a Downing Street official said: "No one is talking about military action."

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Mr Assad should not be allowed to remain in power after the Syrian conflict is over, and called for criminal prosecutions of those behind the latest gas attack.

Attending a major aid-pledging conference for Syria in Brussels, Mr Johnson said: "Of the 400,000 people who are estimated to have been killed in Syria he [Assad] is responsible for the vast majority of the butcher's bill.

"All the evidence I've seen suggests that this was the Assad regime who did it in the full knowledge that they were using illegal weapons in a barbaric attack on their own people.

"What's needed now is a political process to get rid of that regime and give the people of Syria a chance."

The attack overshadowed the Brussels conference where donors from more than 70 countries made a collective pledge of $6bn (€5.26bn)in aid for Syria's war-ravaged people.

Irish Independent

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