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US weighs Syria option

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Russia envoy says it ‘cannot exclude’ war

Sunrise is seen in the Syrian capital Damascus on April 14, 2018. The U.S. started military actions against Damascus before daybreak Saturday as loud explosions were heard with "red dots" seen flying from earth to the sky, reported Syrian state TV and Xinhua reporters in Damascus. (Xinhua/Ammar Safarjalani)

President Donald Trump and his national security aides yesterday discussed US options on Syria, where he has threatened missile strikes in response to a suspected poison gas attack, as a Russian envoy voiced fears of conflict between Washington and Moscow.

Worries about a confrontation between Russia, Syria’s big ally, and the West have been running high since Trump said on Wednesday that missiles “will be coming” in response to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump tempered those remarks yesterday and even as he consulted allies such as Britain and France, there were signs of efforts to prevent the crisis from spiralling out of control.

“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

He met his national security team later in the day and “no final decision has been made”, the White House said.

“We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies,” it said.

That did not necessarily signal that Trump was cooling to the idea of military action.

He spoke to British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday and they talked about the “need for a joint response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons”, the White House said.

May’s office said they agreed on the need to deter Assad’s government from further such attacks.

Trump was also expected to speak with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said France had proof the Syrian government carried out the attack near Damascus, which aid groups said killed dozens of people, and would decide whether to strike back when all the necessary information had been gathered.

“We have proof that last week chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” Macron said, without offering details of any evidence.

Two US officials said
initial indications that a mix of weaponised chlorine gas and sarin were used in the attack appeared to be correct.

But US intelligence agencies had not completed their assessment or reached a final conclusion, the officials said.

Russia, Syria and its other main backer, Iran, have said reports of the Douma attack were fabricated by rebels and rescue workers, and have accused the US of seeking to use it as a pretext to attack the Syrian government.

Russia said it deployed military police in Douma yesterday after the town was taken over by government forces.

There were signs of a global effort to head off a direct confrontation between Russia and the West.

The Kremlin said a crisis communications link with the US, created to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, was in use.

Vassily Nebenzia, Moscow’s ambassador to the UN, said he “cannot exclude” war between the US and Russia and urged Washington and its allies to refrain from military action against Syria.

“The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war,” he said. “We hope there will be no point of no return.”

A team from the global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was travelling to Syria and would start its investigations tomorrow, the agency said.

It was not clear whether Trump and US allies would wait for the results of the investigation before deciding on a strike. – Reuters/African News Agency (ANA)