Trump says ‘big price to pay’ for Syria chemical attack
Beirut/Washington: US President Donald Trump said there would be a “big price to pay” after medical aid groups reported dozens of people were killed by poison gas in a besieged rebel-held town in Syria.
As international officials worked to try to confirm the chemical attack which happened in the town of Douma, Trump took the rare step of directly criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin in connection with the incident.
The Syrian state denied government forces had launched any chemical attack and Russia, President Bashar al-Assads most powerful ally, called the reports bogus.
"Many dead, including women and children, in the 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," Trump wrote on Twitter.
The White House declined to clarify what consequences Trump had in mind. Last year, the United States launched a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base days after a sarin gas attack in northwestern Syria blamed on Assad.
The Russian Foreign Ministry warned against any military action on the basis of "invented and fabricated excuses", saying this could lead to severe consequences.
A joint statement by the medical relief organisation Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the civil defence service, which operates in rebel-held areas, said 49 people had died in the attack. Others put the toll even higher.
The United Nations Security Council is likely to meet Monday afternoon on the chemical attack at the request of the United States and eight other members, diplomats said.
Last week Trump said he wanted to pull US troops out of Syria, though his advisers have urged him to wait to ensure Islamic State militants are defeated and to prevent Assads ally Iran from gaining a foothold there.
There are about 2,000 U.S. troops on the ground in the country working to help fight Islamic State militants.
A top Trump security aide said on Sunday the United States would not rule out launching another missile attack. “I wouldnt take anything off the table," said Tom Bossert, the White House Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser, in an interview.
"We are looking into the attack at this point," he said, adding that the photos of the incident are "horrible."
In one video shared by activists, the bodies of around a dozen children, women and men, some with foam at the mouth, were seen. "Douma city, April 7 ... there is a strong smell here," a voice can be heard saying.
One factor in Trumps decision to bomb Syria last year was the television images of dead children.
Trump will be joined at the White House on Monday by John Bolton, who takes over as White House national security adviser.