U.S. says sees signs Syrian government may be using chemical weapons

by Reuters
Tuesday, 21 May 2019 21:58 GMT

(Adds details)

WASHINGTON, May 21 (Reuters) - The United States sees signs the Syrian government may be using chemical weapons, including an alleged chlorine attack on Sunday in northwest Syria, the State Department said on Tuesday, warning that Washington and its allies would respond "quickly and appropriately" if this were proven.

"Unfortunately, we continue to see signs that the Assad regime may be renewing its use of chemical weapons, including an alleged chlorine attack in northwest Syria on the morning of May 19," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

"We are still gathering information on this incident, but we repeat our warning that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately," she said.

Ortagus said the alleged attack was part of a violent campaign by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces violating a ceasefire that has protected several million civilians in the greater Idlib area.

"The regime's attacks against the communities of northwest Syria must end," the statement said. "The United States reiterates its warning, first issued by President Trump in September 2018, that an attack against the Idlib de-escalation zone would be a reckless escalation that threatens to destabilize the region."

President Donald Trump's administration has twice bombed Syria over Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons, in April 2017 and April 2018. In September, a senior U.S. official said there was evidence showing chemical weapons were being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in the country.

The State Department statement accused Russia and Assad's forces of "a continuing disinformation campaign ... to create the false narrative that others are to blame for chemical weapons attacks."

"The facts, however, are clear," the statement said. The Assad regime itself has conducted almost all verified chemical weapons attacks that have taken place in Syria — a conclusion the United Nations has reached over and over again." (Reporting by Eric Beech and David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.