US president Donald Trump has condemned what he calls a “mindless chemical attack” in Syria that has killed women and children.
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government denied the allegations of an attack on a rebel-held town near the capital, Damascus.
Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
Mr Trump offered no evidence to support the claim by Syrian opposition activists and rescuers that poison gas was used.
But he said in a tweet yesterday that the “area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world”.
He said Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iran – influential Syrian backers – “are responsible for backing Animal Assad”, adding: “Big price to pay.”
Mr Trump is calling for the area to be opened “immediately for medical help and verification”. He said: “Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. Sick!”
At least 40 people are reported to have died in the rebel-held town of Douma and if it is confirmed that chemical weapons have been used it could risk further escalating the crisis in the region.
The US president authorised missile strikes against Syria after a chemical weapons attack last year and, when asked about the possibility of further action, a White House aide said: “I wouldn’t take anything off the table.”
Both the UK and the US highlighted Russian and Iranian support for the Assad regime in their responses to the reported atrocity.
The alleged attack in the Douma occurred late on Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce with the Army of Islam rebels.
Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said poison gas was used on Douma – an allegation strongly denied by the Assad government.
Families were reportedly found suffocated in their homes and shelters, with foam on their mouths.
Reports suggested more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were taken to medical centres with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth and with burning sensations in their eyes.
Whitehall sources confirmed the UK was “not ruling anything out nor in” but acknowledged there were “political issues” around securing parliamentary support for British involvement after MPs voted against strikes following a chemical attack in 2013.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in February that Britain should consider joining military action against the Assad regime if there is fresh “incontrovertible” evidence he has used chemical weapons against his own people.
It is understood that the UK has been in contact with senior officials in Paris, Washington and at the United Nations in New York as Mr Johnson called for an international response to the latest reported use of chemical weapons.
The Foreign Secretary demanded an urgent investigation and warned the Syrian leader’s allies in Moscow not to “obstruct” the inquiry.
Mr Johnson said the reports were “deeply disturbing” and “truly horrific”.
He added: “These latest reports must urgently be investigated and the international community must respond.
“Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) looking into reports of chemical weapons use in Syria have our full support. Russia must not yet again try to obstruct these investigations. “
The OPCW is at the centre of the diplomatic row between the UK and Vladimir Putin’s Russia over the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, with the organisation testing samples of the substance allegedly used in the incident.
Mr Johnson added: “Should it be confirmed that the regime has used chemical weapons again, it would be yet another appalling example of the Assad regime’s brutality and blatant disregard for both the Syrian people and its legal obligations not to use chemical weapons.
“We condemn the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere. We are in close touch with our allies following these latest reports.
“Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons have lost all moral integrity and must be held to account.”
The European Union said the evidence suggested the Assad regime was responsible.
“Reports from Douma, under the siege and bombardment by regime forces and its allies, indicate that a high number of civilians were killed yesterday evening, including families who perished in the shelters they were hiding in,” a spokesman for the EU external action service said.
“The evidence points towards yet another chemical attack by the regime.”
Labour said that anyone found guilty of using chemical weapons should be brought to justice and called for “concrete steps on all sides to restart meaningful talks on a political solution and lasting peace in Syria”.
The alleged gas attack comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people.
That attack prompted the US to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.
Mr Trump said the attack was meant to deter further use of illegal weapons.