The U.S. military has conducted an airstrike in Syria, U.S. officials are saying.
U.S. officials say the Tomahawk missiles were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeting a government-controlled airbase in Syria.
This is a breaking news update. Earlier story below
U.S. President Donald Trump is suggesting that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may have to leave power after this week’s chemical weapons attack.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump said Thursday that what happened in Syria is “a disgrace to humanity.” Asked if Assad should go, Trump said, “He’s there, and I guess he’s running things so something should happen.”
The president would not discuss what, if anything, the United States might do in response to the deadly chemical attack. He said the attack “shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”
Late Thursday, Russia’s deputy UN envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, warned of the consequences if the United States carries out military strikes over the gas attack.
“We have to think about negative consequences, negative consequences, and all the responsibility if military action occurred will be on shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise,” Safronkov told reporters when asked about possible U.S. strikes.
When asked what the consequences could be, he said: “Look at Iraq, look at Libya.”
‘No doubt’ who was responsible
Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Russia to reconsider its support for the regime.
“It is very important that the Russian government consider carefully their continued support for the Assad regime,” Tillerson told reporters as he arrived in Florida for discussions with Chinese officials.
“There is no doubt in our minds, and the information we have supports that Syria, the Syria regime under the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad, are responsible for this attack,” he said, adding that there was no role for Assad in Syria in the future.
Earlier in the day, Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdag said the results from Turkish autopsies on victims of a suspected poison gas attack in northwest Syria will be sent for additional examination to The Hague in the Netherlands, where the International Criminal Court is located.
The UN children’s agency says at least 27 children were among the more than 80 people killed in the attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Idlib province. UNICEF says another 546 people, including many children, were wounded, and that casualty figures are expected to rise.
Turkish officials say dozens were brought to Turkey for treatment, and three of them died.
Turkey says initial tests of samples from victims indicate they were exposed to sarin gas, a highly toxic nerve agent.
The Turkish Health Ministry said Thursday that “according to the results of the first analysis, there were findings suggesting that the patients were exposed to [the] chemical substance (sarin).” It didn’t elaborate.
Don’t rush to blame, Russia warns
Putin’s spokesperson said Russia’s support for Assad is not unconditional.
But Putin also warned against apportioning blame until an investigation has been carried out.
In a phone call with Israel’s prime minister on Thursday, Putin “underlined that it’s unacceptable to make unfounded accusations against anyone until a thorough and unbiased international investigation,” according to the Kremlin.
Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had earlier warned the West against rushing to blame Assad for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun. He said the West lacks objective evidence against Assad, adding that materials presented by local activists can’t serve as a proof.
Russia has said the toxic gas was released when Syrian airstrikes hit a rebel arsenal containing chemical weapons.
Moscow has been supporting the Syrian government militarily since 2015.
The Syrian foreign minister is categorically denying his government used chemical weapons in the attack in Idlib province or in any other attack.
Walid Moallem told reporters at a press conference in Damascus on Thursday that “the Syrian Arab Army has never used chemical weapons and will not use chemical weapons against Syrians and even against terrorists.”
He says the Syrian army bombed a warehouse for al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria that contained chemical weapons, echoing the Russian Defence Ministry’s claim.
He denounced the “chorus” of accusations against Syria, which he says was launched by countries known for their hostility.
Moallem also said Damascus needs assurances that any fact-finding mission into Idlib’s attack would be impartial and not politicized, adding that Syria’s experience with past missions is “not encouraging.”
He told a news conference in the Syrian capital on Thursday that any investigative mission would need to take off from Damascus and be far from the sphere of Turkish influence.
Moallem was asked if Syria would accept an international investigation. He said that “when we are sure we have convincing answers to these questions, we will give you an answer.”