Middle East

World cannot let Assad get away with chemical attack: US

World cannot let Assad get away with chemical attack: US
US President Barack Obama: Photo: The New York Times
Published: August 31, 2:42 PM
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WASHINGTON - The United States made clear yesterday (Aug 31) that it would punish Syrian President Bashar Al Assad for the “brutal and flagrant” chemical weapons attack that it says killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus last week.

“We cannot accept a world where women and children and innocent civilians are gassed on a terrible scale,” President Barack Obama told reporters at the White House.

He said the US was still in the planning process for a “limited, narrow” military response that would not involve “boots on the ground” or be open-ended. He set no timetable for action.

In a sign the US may be preparing to act, a senior State Department official said Secretary of State John Kerry spoke yesterday to the foreign ministers of Britain, Egypt, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as to the secretary general of the Arab League.

The White House will brief Republican senators on Syria in a conference call today at the request of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a spokesman for the senator said.

The timing of the attack, most likely with cruise missiles from five US Navy destroyers already stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, was uncertain, but it had been considered unlikely before United Nations weapons experts probing evidence from the Aug 21 attack, left Syria today.

The inspectors crossed the land border into neighbouring Lebanon on Saturday, a Reuters witness said, after leaving their Damascus hotel earlier in the day.

A sixth US warship is now operating in the eastern Mediterranean, defence officials said late yesterday. One of the officials said the USS San Antonio’s passage into the Mediterranean was long-planned, but officials thought it prudent to keep the ship near the destroyers given the current situation.

Mr Kerry said it was essential not to let Syria get away with the attack, partly as a sign to those who might consider using chemical weapons in the future.

“History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction,” Mr Kerry said in a televised statement.

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