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No 10 rules out military action after chemical attack on Syrian civilians

By Sam Lister

Downing Street has played down the prospect of military action in retaliation for the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, insisting “nobody is talking” about an armed response to the atrocity.

Britain and France are bringing forward a resolution at the United Nations Security Council condemning the attack in the largely opposition-held Idlib province, which is believed to have killed at least 75 people, including 20 children.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he had seen “absolutely nothing to suggest” the attack was carried out by anyone but the government of Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Witnesses claimed the attack was carried out by jets operated by the Russian and Syrian governments. But the Syrian government “categorically rejected” this, instead blaming rebels.

Russia said the town of Khan Sheikhoun was exposed to chemicals from a rebel arsenal hit by a Syrian air strike.

Ahead of yesterday’s emergency meeting of the Security Council, a Number 10 source told reporters travelling with Theresa May in Saudi Arabia: “We want everybody to condemn what happened yesterday and let’s see what happens.

“We hope that everybody will condemn what has happened and that there will be agreement that those responsible should be brought to justice.”

The source said no one was talking about a military response, adding: “There’s a UN resolution this afternoon. The Prime Minister... made a very strong statement condemning this attack, and Britain has brought forward a UN Security Council resolution that will be debated this afternoon.”

Arriving for a major conference for Syria in Brussels, Mr Johnson told reporters: “I’ve seen absolutely nothing to suggest, or rather to lead us to think, that it’s anything but the regime.

“All the evidence I have — and there may be more to come out of this — all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that this was the Assad regime who did it in the full knowledge that they were using illegal weapons in a barbaric attack on their own people.

“You cannot go on with a regime that’s willing to use illegal weapons against its own people, a regime that’s killed hundreds of thousands of its own people.

“What’s needed now is a political process to get rid of that regime and give the people of Syria a chance.”

US President Donald Trump also blamed the Assad regime, saying the attack was “reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilised world”.

Pope Francis said during his general audience that he was “watching with horror at the latest events in Syria” and that he “strongly deplored the unacceptable massacre”.

Russian defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said military assets registered the strike on a weapons depot and ammunition factory on Khan Sheikhoun’s eastern outskirts. He said the factory produced chemical weapons that were used in Iraq.

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