Pentagon Chief: No Evidence of Recent Sarin Gas Use by Syria

A Syrian boy holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a make-shift hospital following a reported gas attack on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma

A Syrian boy holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a make-shift hospital following a reported gas attack on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma

The Trump administration is prepared to again take military action against Syrian government forces if necessary to deter the use of chemical weapons and is concerned they may be developing new methods to deliver such weapons, senior us officials said on Thursday.

A second official said, however, that the Trump Administration hopes that stepped-up worldwide sanctions and diplomatic pressure will help rein in Assad's chemical weapons programme.

If the worldwide community does not act quickly to tighten the screws on Mr Assad, Syria's chemical weapons could spread beyond its borders and possibly even "to U.S. shores", the second official claimed.

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis says investigators are looking into reports that the Syrian government used sarin gas in recent chemical attacks, but there is no evidence of the gas usage so far, US media reported on Friday. After another alleged attack in April 2017, President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory missile strike, but 10 months later, the US and global observers say the weapons are still used.

"We take the allegations of chemical weapons use very seriously and are working with our partners on the ground to investigate the reports", State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

The officials said the characteristics of recent alleged attacks suggested the creation of new, different chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad's government.

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The officials also say Syria may be making new kinds of weapons, either to improve their military capability or to escape worldwide accountability. Elliot Higgins, a British-based weapons analyst, said the serial numbers indicated they were from the same batch as those used in a January attack in the area.

The officials weren't authorized to discuss the assessment on the record and briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Barrel bombs used earlier in the war to disperse chemicals indiscriminately, for example, have been replaced by ground-launched munitions, officials said. The scientists said the samples also matched those taken from the site of another alleged chemical attack past year.

But the officials said the US believes Assad's government sees chemical attacks as an effective way to terrorize rebels and sympathetic populations into fleeing, therefore altering the demographic balance in the Alawite heartland where Assad is trying to consolidate control.

On Jan 22, at least 21 people in Douma, including children, suffered breathing difficulties after a rocket attack on a besieged rebel enclave near Damascus.

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