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U.S. Warns Of More Attacks In Syria As G7 To Pressure Russia On Assad


U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (file photo)

The United States is warning that it could take further military action in Syria if the government there uses chemical weapons or barrel bombs.

"The sight of people being gassed and blown away by barrel bombs ensures that if we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on April 10.

His comments follow last week’s missile strikes ordered by President Donald Trump against a Syrian airfield that Washington believes was used by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to carry out a chemical weapons attack.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said on April 10 that the missile strikes destroyed or damaged some 20 percent of Syria’s operational aircraft.

The warning also comes as foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations are meeting in Italy to try to hammer out a common approach to the civil war in Syria and to discuss ways to put pressure on Russia to break its ties with Assad.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meet during a G7 foreign ministers summit in Lucca, Italy, on April 10.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson meet during a G7 foreign ministers summit in Lucca, Italy, on April 10.

Speaking ahead of the two-day gathering in the Italian city of Lucca, Tuscany, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on April 10 that possible sanctions against Syrian and Russian military officials would be discussed.

He said sanctions could target "figures who have been involved in coordinating the Syrian military efforts and are thereby contaminated by the appalling behavior of [Assad’s] regime."

The British foreign secretary said Russia has a choice: to continue backing the "toxic" Assad government "or to work with the rest of the world to find a solution for Syria, a political solution."

It is "time for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up," he added.

The G7 consists of the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy, France, and Canada.

Along with the G7 members, the foreign ministers of Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar are also scheduled to take part in a special session on April 11 to discuss Syria, Italian news agencies reported.

The alleged chemical air strike by Assad's forces on April 4 killed more than 80 people in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib Province, triggering international outrage.

Moscow and Damascus, which have given Assad crucial diplomatic and military support throughout Syria’s six-year-long civil war, claim that the toxic gas was released when strikes by government forces hit a rebel weapons depot.

The assertion is rejected by the United States and others.

In response to the attack, two U.S. Navy ships fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at an air base in Syria on April 7, drawing condemnations by Russia and Iran.

It was the first time Washington has intervened directly against Assad’s forces.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said on April 10 that following the air strikes, the Syrian government “has lost the ability to refuel or rearm aircraft at Shayrat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest."

"The Syrian government would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons," the defense secretary said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used a ceremony at a World War II memorial in Italy to declare that the United States will stand up to aggressors who harm civilians.

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a wreath-laying ceremony to remember those killed in a Nazi massacre at Sant'Anna di Stazzema, Tillerson said, "We remember the events of August 12, 1944, that occurred in Sant'anna [di Stazzema] and we rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”

In TV interviews broadcast on April 9, Tillerson, who is due to travel to Moscow after the G7 meeting, stopped short of accusing the Russians of complicity in the alleged chemical attack, but said that "they've been incompetent and perhaps they've just simply been outmaneuvered by the Syrians."

Tillerson also made clear that there had been "no change to our military posture" in Syria.

Washington's "first priority" in Syria is to defeat the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, the secretary of state said.

Addressing a news conference in Tehran on April 10, Iranian President Hassan Rohani warned against further military action by the United States against Assad's government, saying that it could be “very dangerous” for the region.

Rohani also repeated his condemnation of the U.S. strikes and his call for an international investigation into the deadly incident.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani in Tehran on April 10.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani in Tehran on April 10.

“Some chemical gas was disseminated in Khan Sheikhun, a number of people were killed and injured. Where did it come from? What was it? How did it happen?” he said.

Also on April 10, Russia's Foreign Ministry said the Russian and Iranian foreign ministers condemned "aggressive" U.S. actions against Syria in a phone call.

Sergei Lavrov and Mohammad Javad Zarif said such actions against a sovereign, independent country are “a flagrant violation of international law, above all, the UN Charter, create threats for regional security, and impair the fight against international terrorism," the ministry said in a statement.

Reacting to Johnson’s comments, Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense and security committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said the imposition of sanctions against Russian military figures “will affect our actions [in Syria] in no way.”

Leaders from seven southern European countries defended on April 10 the retaliatory U.S. air strikes, saying they "had the understandable intention to prevent and deter the spread and use of chemical weapons and was limited and focused on this objective."

The leaders of Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta issued the statement at the end of a summit in Spain.

Meanwhile in Belgrade, visiting U.S. Senator John McCain accused Russia of having cooperated with Syria in the alleged chemical weapons attack.

The Republican senator said on April 10 that he believes "the Russians knew about chemical weapons because they were operating exactly from the same base."

McCain said the United States should “tell Russia that this kind of a war crime is unacceptable in the world today" and take out Syria's air force if Assad does not renounce the use of chemical weapons.

With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters, TASS, the BBC, and RFE/RL’s Balkan Service
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