US warns Syria: We are locked and loaded

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President Donald Trump has warned Syria’s government the US is “locked and loaded” to strike again if it carries out chemical attacks.

The warning came after the US, UK and France struck three Syrian sites in response to a suspected deadly chemical attack in the town of Douma a week ago.

Syria denies any chemical use and says that attack was fabricated by rebels.

A UN Security Council vote brought by Syria’s ally, Russia, to condemn the US-led strikes was rejected.

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The wave of strikes represents the most significant attack against President Bashar al-Assad’s government by Western powers in seven years of Syria’s civil war.

While Western powers have supported rebels from early on in the war, they have not intervened against Syria directly.

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After the failure of the Russian motion, the US, UK and France circulated a new draft resolution to UN Security Council members, calling for an independent investigation into Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, AFP news agency reported.

A similar previous plan had been vetoed by Russia.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has blamed Russian obstruction for the need to launch military strikes, saying they left “no practicable alternative”.

Inspectors from the independent Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had already been dispatched to Damascus and they are expected to visit Douma this weekend.

But the OPCW will not seek to establish – and publicly announce – who was responsible for the attack, which is what the UK, US and France want to see.

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The new, Western-drafted resolution calls for the OPCW to release their report within 30 days.

An emergency meeting was held by the UN Security Council on Saturday, leading to some bitter exchanges.

Russia sought to secure a collective condemnation of the early morning air strikes.

However, out of the 15-member council, only China and Bolivia voted in favour of the Russian resolution.

Russia’s UN envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, read out a quote from President Vladimir Putin accusing the US, UK and France of “cynical disdain” in acting without waiting for the OPCW’s findings.

US envoy Nikki Haley said the strikes were “justified, legitimate and proportionate”.

She said: “I spoke to the president [Trump] this morning and he said, ‘if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded’.”

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She added: “We cannot stand by and let Russia trash every international norm and allow use of chemical weapons to go unanswered.”

Syria’s envoy to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, said the US, UK and France were “liars, spoilers and hypocrites” who exploited the UN “to pursue… [their] policy of interference and colonialism”.

Elsewhere, the Syrian army announced on Saturday that the Eastern Ghouta region, where Douma is situated, had been cleared of the last rebel fighters and was fully retaken.

Syria’s envoy to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, said the US, UK and France were “liars, spoilers and hypocrites” who exploited the UN “to pursue… [their] policy of interference and colonialism”.

 

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