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U.S. calls for UN emergency meeting on Syria

UNITED NATIONS — The United States has called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council at 3 p.m. Monday to respond to reports of yet another deadly chemical attack in Syria during the weekend.

The attack, alleged to have occurred Saturday in Douma, a rebel stronghold, sparked outrage worldwide, with President Donald Trump weighing in via Twitter, saying “President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad,” and that there would be a “Big price to pay.”

He called the situation in Syria “Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

The strong language from Trump threatening a “big price” comes a few days after he had signaled he would be drawing down America’s military presence in Syria, which has been engaged for more than seven years in a war that has claimed 500,000 lives.

Trump said it was time to withdraw troops from Syria as the threat from the Islamic State had died down significantly.

His tweet, however, suggests the chemical attack could derail that timetable.

UN officials, though, said they could not immediately confirm the attack and deferred to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

OPCW Director-General Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü said on Monday that the group was looking into the claims.

“The Fact Finding Mission is in the process of gathering further information from all available sources to establish whether chemical weapons were used,” he said Monday in a statement. “The FFM will report its findings to States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention.“

But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the use of chemical weapons is “abhorrent and requires a thorough investigation,” according to his chief spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, at a briefing Monday before the emergency meeting.

Initial reports of the attack said that dozens of people had suffocated in their homes, and anti-government organizations distributed videos of the limp bodies of men, women and children on floors.

The report prompted the United States and up to eight other nations — Ivory Coast, France, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom — to seek the emergency session.

“Yet again, there are reports of what appears to be a chemical weapons attack in Syria,” said Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN. “Unfortunately, chemical weapons use to injure and kill innocent Syrian civilians has become all too common. The Security Council has to come together and demand immediate access for first responders, support an independent investigation into what happened, and hold accountable those responsible for this atrocious act.”

The attack comes just days after the Security Council marked the anniversary of another attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017, which killed up to 100 people.

That attack, which the Joint Investigative Mechanism — a panel of experts tasked with assigning responsibility for chemical attacks in Syria — had determined was carried out by Syria’s government forces, was followed by Trump’s launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian air base.

But the Joint Investigative Mechanism has been disbanded because its mandate was not renewed by the Security Council in November, when Russia cast a veto to a resolution that would have extended the life of the panel for another year.

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