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03 February 2018, 09:41 | Floyd Cook
Rebel Syrian area hit by third 'chemical attack' as Assad regime increases pressure on opposition
The United States is concerned about the potential use of sarin gas in Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday, a day after Washington warned it was prepared to consider military action if necessary to deter chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government.
The Syrian government was accused past year of using sarin gas against its own citizens - an attack that drew a US retaliatory response of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into the air field the chemical assault was launched from.
The officials said the characteristics of recent alleged attacks suggested the creation of new, different chemical weapons by President Bashar al-Assad's government.
A second official said, however, that the Trump administration hopes that stepped-up global sanctions and diplomatic pressure will help rein in Mr Assad's chemical weapons programme.
U.S. officials said the characteristics of the recent alleged attacks suggest Syria was producing chemical weapons despite a 2013 deal to destroy its program, and that it was "highly likely" that Syria kept a stockpile of weapons. "The regime appears to have weaponized chlorine again", Mattis told Politico, "but we are even more concerned about the possibility of sarin use". Mattis said he does not believe that Syria has kept to the brokered by the U.S. and Russian Federation that required the Assad regime to relinquish their chemical weapons.
Since last April, Syria has continued to use chemical weapons, the officials said.
"Regarding the chemical weapons issue, differences remain between SC members".
Reports of chemical attacks have continued to stream in from Syria, including as recently as Thursday, when rescue workers in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma reported what they described as a suspected chlorine gas attack that injured several civilians.
"They know what we know", one of the officials said.
Chlorine is not substance banned by worldwide chemical weapons prohibitions, but when used as a weapon of war, it's just as illegal as nerve agent sarin, they explained. "We reserve the right to use military force to prevent or deter the use of weapons of mass destruction".
There were no indications that the Syrian government, after seven years of civil war, had developed new, deadlier chemicals.
The Observatory could not confirm local reports of a chlorine attack on the Eastern Ghouta region on Thursday but it reported at least two likely uses of chlorine in attacks in January. Nauert said this is the third reported incident in east Ghouta in the last 30 days.
"We are on the record and you all have seen how we reacted to that, so they would be ill-advised to go back to violating the chemical (weapons) convention", Mattis said. The Islamic State militant group continues to use them, they said, although the militants' arms are said to be more rudimentary.
The U.N. says more than 270,000 people have been displaced in Idlib because of the government onslaught since December 15.
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