U.S. claims 'chemical weapons activity' at Syria airbase

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The White House issued a brief written statement Monday night saying it had detected potential preparations for another chemical attack and emphasizing the Syrian government would "pay a heavy price" if it proceeded.

The United States saw what appeared to be active Syrian preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at Shayrat airfield, the same Syrian airfield the United States struck in April, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said on Tuesday.

The United States previously launched naval strikes against a Syrian air base in April in response to a chemical weapons attack in eastern Syria, which the United States alleged had been conducted by the Assad regime, destroying dozens of military aircraft.

April's strike put Washington in confrontation with Russian Federation, which has advisers in Syria aiding its close ally Assad.

The thing is, Trump's warning seemed to come as a surprise to many US defense officials, who told the New York Times and BuzzFeed they weren't aware of the potential chemical strike and the consequent statement.

President Donald Trump has said he won't stand for Syria's use of chemical weapons.

The French leader has said that Paris could launch unilateral air strikes against targets in Syria if a new chemical attack took place.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on possible United States plans if Syria's military conducted a chemical weapons attack.

The U.S. accusation and ominous warning marked a further escalation of tensions in a country where the U.S.is using Syria Arab and Kurdish proxy soldiers to combat the Islamic State group in its remaining strongholds, even as Russian Federation and Iran work to prop up President Bashar Assad, who has gained the upper hand in a long civil war. It was the second nerve gas attack the US has attributed to the Syrian government since 2013. A US official says no strike order has been issued, but the ships are planning, in case they get an order to act.

Declaring the possibility of a new chemical attack in Syria, Washington may itself prepare a pre-emptive strike against government forces, said Konstantin Kosachov, head of the International Committee of the Russian Federation Council, the upper house of Russian parliament.

Two events in the past month -- the shooting down by a USA plane of a Syrian Su-22 and the use of ballistic missiles by Iran against ISIS targets - are evidence of a scramble in eastern Syria that's been gathering pace since the beginning of the year. Syrian opposition officials maintain that the government's stocks were not fully accounted for and that it retained supplies.

It will require rigorous communication through the several channels that the United States and Russian Federation have established to avoid getting tangled in Syria's civil war.

After the April attack, Trump gave orders to fire dozens of Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat in central Syria.

"If the Americans take similar action again, I want to be very clear - we will support it".

Syria, too, denied preparations for a chemical attack.

Zarif's remarks follow Monday's White House warning that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his military would "pay a heavy price" if they go ahead with the attack.

Syria's two main allies, Russian Federation and Iran, joined in bashing Washington.

In April, global chemical weapons inspectors found what they called "incontrovertible" evidence that Sarin gas, or a similar substance, was used in the chemical attack that killed 89 people.

The Kremlin stated it had seen no information about another chemical attack.

The chemical threat and sudden White House warning illustrate the challenging complexities of the fighting in Syria, a country whose territory was used by IS to march into Iraq in 2014 and prompt a USA return to the Middle East's battlefield.

Galloway also told VOA the Defense Department was aware of a statement made by White House press secretary Sean Spicer Monday in which he said the USA had identified "potential preparations" for a chemical attack prior to its release.

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