Trump warns of ‘price to pay’ amid reports of Syrian poison gas attack
The UK has called for an international response as the US indicated nothing was ‘off the table’.
Boris Johnson said the international community must respond to reports of a poison gas attack in Syria as Donald Trump warned there would be a “big price to pay” for the alleged atrocity.
At least 40 people are reported to have died in the rebel-held town of Douma and if it is confirmed chemical weapons have been used by Bashar Assad’s regime it could risk further escalating the crisis in the region.
The US president authorised missile strikes against Syria after a chemical weapons attack last year and a White House aide said “I wouldn’t take anything off the table” when asked about the possibility of further action.
Grim reports of large scale chemical weapons attack vs innocent civilians in Syria. If confirmed Syrian regime responsible, more evidence of Asad's brutality and disregard for Syrian people. Russia must not yet again try to block investigation into CW use https://t.co/NxWmZGoY8h— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) April 8, 2018
Whitehall sources confirmed the UK was “not ruling anything out nor in” but acknowledged there were “political issues” around securing parliamentary support for British involvement after MPs voted against strikes following a chemical attack in 2013.
The Foreign Secretary said in February that Britain should consider joining military action against Assad’s regime if there is fresh “incontrovertible” evidence he has used chemical weapons against his own people.
It is understood that the UK has been in contact with senior officials in Paris, Washington and at the United Nations in New York as Mr Johnson called for an international response to the latest reported use of chemical weapons.
The Foreign Secretary demanded an urgent investigation and warned Syrian leader Assad’s allies in Moscow not to “obstruct” the probe.
Both the UK and US highlighted Russian and Iranian support for the Assad regime in their responses to the reported atrocity.
The alleged attack in the town of Douma occurred late on Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce with the Army of Islam rebel group.
Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said poison gas was used on the rebel-held town near the capital – an allegation strongly denied by the Assad government.
Families were reportedly found suffocated in their homes and shelters, with foam on their mouths.
Reports suggested more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were brought to medical centres with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and burning sensations in the eyes.
Mr Johnson said the reports were “deeply disturbing” and “truly horrific”.
He added: “These latest reports must urgently be investigated and the international community must respond.
“Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) looking into reports of chemical weapons use in Syria have our full support. Russia must not yet again try to obstruct these investigations. ”
The OPCW is at the centre of the diplomatic row between the UK and Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, with the organisation currently testing samples of the substance allegedly used in the incident.
Mr Johnson added: “Should it be confirmed that the regime has used chemical weapons again, it would be yet another appalling example of the Assad regime’s brutality and blatant disregard for both the Syrian people and its legal obligations not to use chemical weapons.
“We condemn the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere. We are in close touch with our allies following these latest reports.
“Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons have lost all moral integrity and must be held to account.”
Mr Trump branded Assad an “animal” in a series of posts on Twitter.
He said: “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.”
Many dead, including women and children, in 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...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018
....to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018
The European Union said the evidence suggested the Assad regime was responsible.
“Reports from Douma, under the siege and bombardment by regime forces and its allies, indicate that a high number of civilians were killed yesterday evening, including families who perished in the shelters they were hiding in,” a spokesman for the EU external action service said.
“The evidence points towards yet another chemical attack by the regime.”
The alleged gas attack in Douma comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people.
That attack prompted the US to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.
President Trump said the attack was meant to deter further Syrian use of illegal weapons.
In February, Mr Johnson suggested that the UK should be prepared to support any further action.
He said: “If there is incontrovertible evidence of the use of chemical weapons, verified by the Office of the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, if we know that it’s happened and we can demonstrate it, and if there is a proposal for action where the UK could be useful, then I think that we should seriously consider it.”
Labour said that anyone found guilty of using chemical weapons should be brought to justice and called for “concrete steps on all sides to restart meaningful talks on a political solution and lasting peace in Syria”.