Thursday 24 January 2019

Trump warns Putin on new Syria atrocity

A medical worker gives a child oxygen at a makeshift medical clinic in Douma Photo: AP
A medical worker gives a child oxygen at a makeshift medical clinic in Douma Photo: AP

Ben Riley-Smith

Donald Trump last night warned Russia's Vladimir Putin that there would be a "big price to pay" for a suspected Syrian chemical weapons attack that killed 70 people, including children.

In his harshest criticism of the Russian leader since taking office, the US president said Mr Putin was partly "responsible" for the assault on rebels in Douma, Eastern Ghouta.

He also criticised Barack Obama's failure to police a "red line" over chemical weapons, while a senior White House official said no form of response was "off the table".

The comments raise the possibility of a US air strike against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president. Mr Trump approved the same response a year ago after a similar chemical attack.

The UN security council is expected to meet today after the UK, France, the US and six other countries called for an emergency session.

Russia, Iran and Syria all denied chemical weapons had been used, with the Kremlin warning that any military response from the West would be "absolutely unacceptable".

A residential area of Douma, one of the last remaining rebel-held pockets in Syria, was struck around 8.45pm on Saturday.

Footage showed the dead bodies of children and adults with foaming mouths and glaring eyes.

Mr Trump (inset right) tweeted: "Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world.

"President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.

"Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!"

The president highlighted Mr Obama's failure to launch air strikes after past chemical weapons use, tweeting: "If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!" US media reported that Mr Trump would meet military leaders today to consider action against al-Assad (left).

Thomas Bossert, a White House counterterrorism adviser, declined to rule out any form of response during an interview with ABC's 'This Week'. "I wouldn't take anything off the table. These are horrible photos," he said.

The attack came almost exactly a year after deadly sarin gas was used on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, prompting Mr Trump to approve dropping US missiles on a Syrian airbase.

The Union of Medical Relief Organisations, a US-based charity that works with Syrian hospitals, said there were 70 confirmed dead, but the toll was expected to rise.

If it reaches above 80, it would be the deadliest chemical assault since the 2013 sarin strike on Eastern Ghouta that left around 1,400 dead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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