NATO is building up its naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as the US, Britain and France are preparing to respond to an alleged incoming chemical attack on Idlib by Syrian forces, according to Sputnik, citing media reports said based on Western websites monitoring naval activity in the region, on September 17th.
Warships from NATO’s 2nd Standing Maritime Group are patrolling Eastern Mediterranean waters close to Syria, according to the cited reports.
The NATO flotilla cruising off the Syrian coast reportedly consists of a Dutch frigate, the De Ruyter, a Canadian frigate, the Ville de Quebec, and a Greek cruiser, the Elli.
Sputnik also cited Commander Harold Liebregs, the captain of the Dutch Frigate, who in his microblog confirmed the movement.
Sputnik further cites earlier reports of US Navy movements. According to them Los Angeles-Class US submarine, the USS Newport News, armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, has entered the Mediterranean Sea to join a US naval task force consisting of two nuclear submarines with cruise missiles on board and two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, the USS Carney and the USS Ross.
These developments come after WSJ, on September 9th cited anonymous US officials who claimed that new US intelligence has revealed that Assad plans to use chlorine gas in Idlib. It also wasn’t clear whether Assad had allowed the use of sarin gas by Syrian forces, the deadly nerve agent allegedly used several times in previous Syrian attacks on militant-held areas. This US intelligence, disclosed by unnamed US officials comes after on August 25th the Russian Defense Ministry warned of a staged chemical attack by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, who received chlorine gas, delivered to them by the White Helmets “rescue group.”
The US, UK and France have vowed a response to any chemical attack carried out in Idlib.
On the same day, during a UN Security Council briefing, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley accused Russian and Syrian forces of attacking schools and killing civilians, under the pretext that they are attacking terrorist targets. She did not, however, provide any facts or evidence to support her accusations.
Furthermore, on September 12th, in an interview with Fox News Nikki Haley claimed that US and its allies, most members of the UN Security Council, would “address” any attack on civilians in Syria’s Idlib province, not just a chemical attack.
On September 14th, Moscow announced the postponement of a planned joint offensive by Syrian and Russian government forces in Syria’s Idlib province. The decision came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Russian and Iranian leaders Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani in Tehran on September 7th to discuss Syria.