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US accuses Syria of planning 'major chemical attack'

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By Catherine Hardy  with REUTERS
US accuses Syria of planning 'major chemical attack'

The White House has accused the Syrian President of preparing for a major chemical attack.

Officials warned Bashar al-Assad and his military will “pay a heavy price” if it carries out such an attack.

Officials released the unusual statement late on Monday saying they believe preparations are underway.

Have they given any details?

Some. They have said preparations are underway that resemble those undertaken before a chemical attack on April 4 that killed dozens of civilians.

It also prompted US President Donald Trump to order a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.

But is there any concrete evidence of preparations for an attack?

The intelligence is not considered conclusive. US and allied intelligence officers have identified several sites where they suspect the Assad government may be hiding newly-made chemical weapons from inspectors.

The assessment is partly based on the locations, security surrounding the suspect sites and other information which has not been revealed.

Officials say the White House warning is based on new reports of what is described as abnormal activity that might be associated with preparations for a chemical attack.

Officials decided to issue the warning to the Assad regime about the consequences of a chemical attack on civilians in an attempt to deter a strike.

What happened in April?

Trump ordered the strike on the Shayrat airfield in Syria. It was in reaction to what Washington said was a poison gas attack by Assad’s government.

87 people died in the rebel-held territory. Syria denied carrying out the attack.

Assad told reporters that the alleged April attack was “100 percent fabrication” used to justify a US air strike.

It was the toughest direct US action yet in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, raising the risk of confrontation with Russia and Iran, Assad’s two main military backers.

US oficials called the intervention a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the US role in the Syrian war.

What they are saying

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” – White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

“Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people,” – US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.