White House pledges to 'respond swiftly' if Assad uses chemical weapons again

Donald Trump Bashar al-Assad
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06 September, 2018

On Tuesday the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said panic was spreading among the 3 million citizens of Idlib province as he suggested the Assad government and its allies had set 10 September as the date for a full-scale bombardment of the last large rebel enclave.

On Tuesday, the United Nations peace envoy for Syria urged Erdogan and Russia's President Vladimir Putin to speak on the phone before Friday's summit.

Many of those living in Idlib are rebels and civilians who were bussed out of their hometowns in other parts of the country that have come back under regime control.

The countryside around Jisr al-Shughour in the west of the enclave was also the main target for Tuesday's air strikes, rescue workers, a rebel source and the British-based Observatory said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday that at least nine civilians, including five children from the same family, were killed in the Russian raids, while 10 more people were wounded.

"The United States is closely monitoring the situation in Idlib province, Syria, where millions of innocent civilians are under threat of an imminent Assad regime attack, backed by Russian Federation and Iran", the White House said in a statement.

Moscow has accused armed groups in Idlib of sending weaponised drones to attack the Hmeimim airbase that it uses in the adjacent province of Latakia. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the militants pose a terrorist threat, calling Idlib a "hornets' nest of terrorists".

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Just a day earlier, Peskov had slammed Idlib as a "pocket of terrorism".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to have a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly during the last week of September.

"Our cooperation with Russian Federation now is very important", he said.

The White House issued a statement Tuesday warning against "a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict".

USA defence chief Jim Mattis later dismissed reports that fighters inside Idlib may hold such weapons.

The US says it will respond "swiftly and appropriately" if Syrian President Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons "again", suggesting that Damascus was behind an April "attack" which Moscow says was entirely staged.

Western countries rushed to blame the incident on Damascus, with the United States launching a missile attack against Shayrat Airbase in Syria's Homs Province on April 7, 2017.

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