UPDATE 4 — 4/6, 4:09 p.m. EDT: Speaking to the media Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Syrian President Assad has “no role” to govern his country in the future, and that “steps are underway” for President Trump to assemble an “international coalition” to forcibly remove Damascus’ leader from power.
UPDATE 3 — 4/6, 12:16 p.m. EDT: CNN is reporting a congressional source has said President Trump is consulting with Defense Sec. James Mattis about using military action against Syria in retaliation for a chemical attack on civilians Tuesday.
According to Washington officials, the Defense Dept. has more than one legal avenue to pursue strikes against Damascus for perpetrating crimes against humanity.
UPDATE 2 — 4/6, 10:22 a.m. EDT: Turkish officials said Thursday that autopsies of victims from Tuesday’s attack in Syria show chemical weapons were used to kill up to 86 people, according to the latest estimates.
The attack in Idlib province occurred about 60 miles from Turkey’s southern border.
UPDATE — 4/6, 8:23 a.m. EDT: Speaking at a joint White House press conference Wednesday, President Trump spoke explicitly about Tuesday’s chemical attack in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad.
“I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me.” Trump said. “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
Trump later criticized the Obama administration for failing to act militarily when Assad had previously used chemical weapons on Syria’s civilian population.
“It crossed a lot of lines for me,” the president continued. “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal – people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”
An alleged chemical attack in Syria has killed at least 72 and injured over 300 people, according to reports from Great Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian civil group Syrian Civil Defense.
The alleged attack occurred in Khan Sheikhoun, in the Idlib Governorate, almost exclusively under the control of Syrian opposition groups and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front.
Reports conflict, however, and it remains unclear whether the spread of chemicals was deliberate, the result of chemical weapons dropped by Syrian military aircraft, or caused by a Syrian airstrike destroying an opposition group’s chemical stockpile inside Khan Sheikhoun.
Washington blames President Bashar al-Assad’s government; Russian military officials maintain the chemical agent was released after a Syrian military jet destroyed an opposition chemical weapon cache.
Condemnation in response to the spread of chemicals was swift from the U.S. and the UK. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Monday responsibility lies with Assad and it is Russia and Iran which should shoulder “moral responsibility” for the alleged attack.
In the same State Department press release, Tillerson is said to have described this “brutal, unabashed barbarism” as representative of the Assad government and called on Russia and Iran to take all necessary steps to prevent the Assad government from further use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Similarly, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said “all the evidence” implicated the Assad regime.
Joined by France, the U.S. and Great Britain have collaborated to compose a UN resolution denouncing the act; the U.N. Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting Wednesday.
In response to the alleged attack, Russia has denied conducting any airstrike in Idlib and defended Damascus, saying the release of the chemical agent, suspected to be sarin nerve gas, was caused by a Syrian warplane hitting a rebel arsenal.
The Kremlin also announced it would present evidence to the UN Security Council to disprove allegations the Syrian military used chemical weapons.
Addressing the matter on behalf of the Russian government, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Russia was committed to backing the Assad regime.
“Russia and its armed forces will continue their operations to support the anti-terrorist operations of Syria’s armed forces to free the country,” he said.
Efforts to assist the victims are ongoing and no official death toll has been established.
[BBC] [RT] [AP] [Reuters] [The Guardian] [The Daily Beast] [Photo courtesy AP/Edlib Media Center via news.com.au]