US warns Syria over alleged chemical weapons usage
Washington, May 22 (IANS) The US State Department has issued a warning to the Syrian government, saying Washington was closely looking into allegations that Bashar al-Assad’s troops have used chemical weapons in recent days.
"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," CNN quoted State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus as saying in a statement on Tuesday.
"We are still gathering information on this incident but we repeat our warning that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the US and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately," she added.
President Donald Trump’s administration had ordered retaliatory strikes against Syrian regime targets in 2017 and 2018 after reports of chemical weapons attacks by Assad’s forces.
Earlier on Tuesday the Russia Ministry of Defence accused Syrian rebels, including "specialists who have been trained in Raqqa city under the guidance of US intelligence officers", of planning a "false flag" chemical weapons attack to frame the Syrian regime in Idlib.
"The terrorists operating in the Idlib de-escalation zone have a significant amount of toxic substances, which the militants equip ammunition for the performances of so called use of chemical weapons against the civilian population by the government troops." the Russian statement said.
Responding to the Russian allegations, Ortagus said: "Russia’s recent allegations against the White Helmets and others are part of a continuing disinformation campaign by the Assad regime and Russia to create the false narrative that others are to blame for chemical weapons attacks that the Assad regime itself is conducting.
"Russia and the Assad regime have made these false allegations as a pretext in advance of the Assad regime’s own barbaric chemical weapons attacks. The facts, however, are clear: the Assad regime itself has conducted almost all verified chemical weapons attacks — a conclusion the UN has reached over and over again."
Thousands of anti-government forces remain in Idlib, Syria, where regime troops backed by Russian airstrikes have ramped up attacks in recent days, CNN reported.
US officials have acknowledged that many of the remaining rebel groups in the area have links to extremist groups such as the local Al Qaeda affiliate, but officials are also wary of the humanitarian fallout that will result from large-scale regime attacks, given the large presence of civilians.