Trump says Syria attack ‘could be very soon or not so soon’

Reuters . Washington | Published: 00:05, Apr 13,2018 | Updated: 00:38, Apr 13,2018

 
 

A Syrian soldier from the government forces talks with a woman searching to find her home in a destroyed neighbourhood in the former rebel-held town of Zamalka in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on Wednesday. The 50-year-old woman, Umm Mohammad, was searching desperately among the ruins of the town of Zamalka to find her home with the help of the soldier. — AFP photo

US president Donald Trump cast doubt on Thursday over the timing of his threatened strike on Syria in response to a reported poison gas attack, while France said it had proof of Syria’s guilt but needed to gather more information.
Fears of confrontation between Russia and the West have been running high since Trump said on Wednesday that missiles ‘will be coming’ after the suspected chemical weapons attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
‘Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!’ the US president said in his latest early morning tweet on Thursday.
French president Emmanuel Macron said France has proof the Syrian government carried out the attack, which aid groups have said killed dozens of people, and will decide whether to strike back when all the necessary information has 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.
‘We will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective,’ he told broadcaster TF1.
Prime minister Theresa May prepared to convene a special cabinet meeting at 1430 GMT to weigh whether Britain should join the United States and France in a possible military action.
May recalled ministers from their Easter holiday to debate action over what she has cast as a barbaric poison gas attack in Douma, then rebel-held, just east of the capital Damascus.
There were signs, though, of a global effort to head off a direct confrontation between Russia and the West. The Kremlin said a crisis communications link with the United States, created to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, was in use.
‘The situation in Syria is horrific, the use of chemical weapons is something the world has to prevent,’ Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis said.
‘But also it’s a very, very delicate circumstance and we’ve got to make this judgment on a very careful, very deliberate, very well thought-through basis.’
Syria’s military has repositioned some air assets to avoid missile strikes, US officials told Reuters. Locating them alongside Russian military hardware might make Washington reluctant to hit them.
Russia, Assad’s most important ally in his seven-year-old war with rebels, said it had deployed military police in Douma on Thursday after the town was taken over by government forces.
‘They are the guarantors of law and order in the town,’ RIA news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying.
Assad said any Western action ‘will contribute nothing but an increase in instability in the region, threatening international peace and security’, Syrian state TV reported.
The Russian military said it had observed movements of US Navy forces in the Gulf. Any US strike would probably involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defences. A US guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean.
Moscow’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, warned on Wednesday any US missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted.
The Syrian conflict has increasingly widened the rifts between Moscow, Washington and European powers and inflamed the bitter rivalries that run across the Middle East.
Syria and its allies Russia and Iran say reports of the attack were fabricated by rebels and rescue workers in Douma and have accused the United States of seeking to use it as a pretext to attack the government.
Nervous world stock markets showed signs of recovery after Trump signalled military strikes might not be imminent.

Syria, Iran and Russia say Israel was behind an air strike on a Syrian air base on Monday that killed seven Iranian military personnel, something Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.
Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone on Wednesday and urged him to do nothing to destabilise Syria. Netanyahu’s office said: ‘The prime minister reiterated that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.’
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said the Western threats were ‘based on lies’ about the poison gas assault, after meeting Assad. He said later he hoped Syria’s army and its allies would drive US troops out of eastern Syria, and take Idlib in the northwest from rebels.
Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said he had spoken to Trump on Wednesday and would speak to Putin on Thursday night about the chemical attack.
May has ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria in readiness for strikes against the Syrian military that could begin as early as Thursday night, London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said on Wednesday.
The BBC reported that May was ready to give the go-ahead for Britain to take part in military action. She would not seek approval from parliament, the BBC said.
Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said parliament must be consulted.
Parliament voted down British military action against Assad’s government in 2013 in an embarrassment for May’s predecessor, David Cameron. That then deterred the US administration of Barack Obama from similar action.
British minister Davis said his decision then to vote against action was based on a lack of clear evidence and a lack of a clear plan. ‘Those two things, I’m assured, we will get an answer to today,’ he said of Thursday’s cabinet meeting.


Trump says Syria attack ‘could be very soon or not so soon’
Reuters . Washington
Fears of a military confrontation between Russia and the West ran high on Thursday but US president Donald Trump cast doubt over the timing of his threatened strike on Syria in response to a reported poison gas attack on a rebel enclave.
‘Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!’ said Trump in his latest early morning tweet.
That appeared a day after he tweeted that missiles ‘will be coming’ after the April 7 chemical weapons attack alleged to have killed dozens of people, and lambasted Moscow for standing by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Prime minister Theresa May prepared to convene a special cabinet meeting at 1430 GMT to weigh whether Britain should join the United States and France in a possible military action.
May recalled ministers from their Easter holiday to debate action over what she has cast as a barbaric poison gas attack by Syrian government forces on civilians in the formerly rebel-controlled town of Douma, just east of the capital Damascus.
There were signs, though, of a global effort to head off a dangerous conflict pitting Russia against the West. The Kremlin said a crisis communications link with the United States, created to avoid an accidental clash over Syria, was in use.
‘The situation in Syria is horrific, the use of chemical weapons is something the world has to prevent,’ Britain’s Brexit minister David Davis said on Thursday morning.
‘But also it’s a very, very delicate circumstance and we’ve got to make this judgment on a very careful, very deliberate, very well thought-through basis.’
French president Emmanuel Macron said he would decide whether to strike Syrian government targets after the reported attack by internationally banned chemical munitions in Douma once all the necessary information had been gathered.
‘We will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective,’ Macron said, adding that all the necessary verifications had to be carried out first.
He said he would also strive to prevent an escalation of conflict across the Middle East.
At the eye of the storm, Assad said any Western action ‘will contribute nothing but an increase in instability in the region, threatening international peace and security’, Syrian state television reported.
Russia, Assad’s most important ally in his seven-year-old war with rebels, said it had deployed military police in Douma on Thursday after the town was taken over by government forces.
‘They are the guarantors of law and order in the town,’ RIA news agency quoted Russia’s defence ministry as saying.
Syria’s military has repositioned some air assets to avoid fallout from possible missile strikes, US officials said on Wednesday.
Syria’s attempt to shelter aircraft, perhaps by locating them alongside Russian military hardware that Washington might be reluctant to hit, could limit damage that the United States and its allies might be able to inflict on Assad’s military.
World stocks edged down as anxious investors stayed wary of risky assets.
US defence secretary Jim Mattis, striking a cautious tone after Trump’s threat of missile strikes, said on Wednesday the United States was still assessing intelligence about the suspected toxic gas attack.
Both Syria and Russia have said reports of the attack were fabricated by rebels and rescue workers in Douma and have accused the United States of seeking to use it as a pretext to attack the government.
The Russian military said it had observed movements of US Navy forces in the Gulf. Any US strike would probably involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defences. A US guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean.
Moscow’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, warned on Wednesday that any US missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted.
The Syrian conflict has increasingly widened the rifts between Moscow, Washington and European powers and inflamed the bitter rivalries that run across the Middle East.
Syria, Iran and Russia say Israel was behind an air strike on a Syrian air base on Monday that killed seven Iranian military personnel, something Israel has neither confirmed nor denied.
Russian president Vladimir Putin spoke to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu by phone on Wednesday and urged him to do nothing to destabilise Syria. Netanyahu’s office said: ‘The prime minister reiterated that Israel will not allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria.’
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said the Western threats were ‘based on lies’ about the poison gas assault, after meeting Assad.
Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said he had spoken to Trump on Wednesday and would speak to Putin on Thursday night about the chemical attack.
German foreign minister Heiko Maas said Berlin wanted to be consulted before any Western military action. ‘It’s important at the same time to maintain pressure on Russia,’ he said. ‘If we want to do that, we the Western partners cannot diverge in our approaches.’
May has ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria in readiness for strikes against the Syrian military that could begin as early as Thursday night, London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper said on Wednesday.
The BBC reported that May was ready to give the go-ahead for Britain to take part in military action. She would not seek approval from parliament, the BBC said, despite calls from the opposition Labour Party for parliament to be given a say.
Parliament voted down British military action against Assad’s government in 2013 in an embarrassment for May’s predecessor, David Cameron. That then deterred the US administration of Barack Obama from similar action.
British minister Davis said his decision then to vote against action was based on a lack of clear evidence and a lack of a clear plan. ‘Those two things, I’m assured, we will get an answer to today,’ he said of Thursday’s cabinet meeting.


Trump says Syria attack could be ‘soon or not so soon’
Agence France-Presse . Washington
President Donald Trump was evasive Thursday over when the United States might fire missiles at Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack, saying they could come at any time.
Tension was mounting among top world powers over the alleged chemical attack against civilians in the Syrian town of Douma.
France’s Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he had ‘proof’ that the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons, and would respond to it ‘at a time of our choosing.’
One day after warning regime-backer Russia that ‘missiles will be coming’ to Syria, Trump in another early morning tweet storm wrote: ‘Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!’
British prime minister Theresa May was due to hold an emergency cabinet meeting amid speculation she will support US action against the Syrian regime.
Germany’s Angela Merkel said it was ‘obvious’ that Syria hadn’t eradicated its chemical arsenal as it had earlier claimed.
Meanwhile opponents of unilateral US action called an emergency closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council for Thursday.
The White House has said that Trump holds Assad’s regime and its military backers Russia responsible for an alleged attack on Douma on Saturday, which rescue workers said killed more than 40 people.
Trump on Wednesday slammed Russia for its military alliance with Assad, saying it should not ‘be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it.’
US officials have refused to rule out direct military engagement with Russia, with the White House saying that ‘all options are on the table.’
Defense secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday the Pentagon was ready to provide options for a Syria strike but that the US and its allies were still ‘assessing the intelligence’ on the suspected chemical attack.
A special hotline for the US and Russian militaries to communicate about operations in Syria is active and being used by both sides, Moscow said Thursday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that it was ‘crucial to avoid any steps that could lead to heightened tensions’ in Syria, saying this would have an ‘extremely destructive influence’ on attempts to resolve the conflict.
Assad warned on Thursday that threats of Western military action ‘will only contribute to further destabilization in the region.’
Russia has warned the United States against carrying out a ‘military intervention on fabricated pretexts,’ and has accused the White Helmets civil defense organization in Syria of staging a fake chemical weapons attack in Douma.
The Russian army declared early Thursday that the Syrian state flag was flying in Douma, where the alleged chemical attack took place.
Moscow said this a ‘significant event in the history of Syria,’ meaning that the whole of Eastern Ghouta had come under government forces’ control.
Rebels in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons and their leader left the enclave, while the Syrian flag was raised over the central mosque, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
However Douma residents told AFP that a dispute subsequently erupted with shots fired and the flag was taken down from the mosque.
United Nations secretary general Antonio Guterres on Wednesday said he had met with ambassadors from the five permanent members including Russia and the United States, and ‘stressed the need to avoid the situation spiralling out of control.’
At the UN Security Council, Moscow and Washington have so far vetoed each other’s motions to set up an international investigation into chemical weapons use.
Macron has insisted he does ‘not want an escalation’ and that any response would focus on Syria’s chemical capabilities, not on allies of the regime.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed those behind the killings of civilians would pay a ‘heavy price’, after the foreign ministry said there was a ‘strong suspicion’ Assad’s regime was responsible.
Erdogan said Thursday Turkey was worried by the ‘arm wrestling’ of world powers over Syria.
Syria said it had invited the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which has blamed the regime for previous attacks, to visit Douma.
The OPCW, which works to rid the world of chemical arms stockpiles, said it would ‘shortly’ deploy a fact-finding team there for an investigation.
Syria’s White Helmets said the attack took place late on Saturday using ‘poisonous chlorine gas’.
‘More than 500 cases.. were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent’ including ‘respiratory distress’ and foaming at the mouth, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the White Helmets said in a joint statement.
Damascus agreed to hand over its chemical arsenal in 2013, narrowly avoiding American and French air strikes in retaliation for a suspected sarin attack.

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