Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has allegedly approved the use of chlorine gas in an offensive against Idlib, the last major militant stronghold left in the country, according to unnamed US officials, cited by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
WSJ also reported that in a recent discussion unnamed persons, familiar with the exchange, President Donald Trump threatened to conduct a massive attack against Assad if he carries out a “massacre in Idlib,” the northwestern province that currently houses close to 3 million civilians, and approximately 10,000 terrorists, from al-Qaeda and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, as well as 70,000 opposition militants.
WSJ also claimed international efforts to avert the offensive have failed to dissuade Syria, Russia and Iran from an attack on Idlib to end the seven-year-long war. WSJ also reported that Russia and Syria have stepped up their airstrikes, while thousands of civilians have been evacuated to government-controlled parts of Syria.
WSJ reported that Assad also refused appeals from the UN, Turkey and the US that an attack could trigger a humanitarian crisis.
“Syria is once again at the edge of an abyss,” Francois Delattre, the French ambassador to the United Nations, said last week during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Idlib.
The unnamed US officials, cited by WSJ also said that the Pentagon is considering options, but Mr. Trump hasn’t decided what exactly would trigger a military response or whether the U.S. would target Russian or Iranian military forces aiding Mr. Assad in Syria. The US could also reportedly use targeted economic sanctions on Syrian officials instead of strikes.
“We haven’t said that the U.S. would use the military in response to an offensive,” one senior administration official said, cited by WSJ. “We have political tools at our disposal, we have economic tools at our disposal. There are a number of different ways we could respond if Assad were to take that reckless, dangerous step,” he continued.
WSJ also cites the same 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.
US officials, on September 9th, wouldn’t comment on whether use of chlorine gas would trigger a new US airstrike. “I will not comment on U.S. military plans, but Assad’s use of chemical weapons, sarin and chlorine, and disregard for civilian lives is well documented and contrary to regional stability,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said.
In the past two years, President Trump has launched airstrikes against Syria twice. Both times after accusing the Syrian leader of using sarin gas in attacks that killed scores of civilians, including women and children. The more recent one was in April 2018.
National security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked their Russian counterparts to ensure that no chemical weapons were used in Idlib, the unnamed US officials said, cited by WSJ.
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.”
It also comes after on September 7th, the US special representative for Syria, James Jeffrey said that the US would not withdraw from Syria. “The new policy is we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year,” he told reporters in Washington. Initially the 2,200 US troops deployed to eastern Syria in support of the multi-national coalition against ISIS was supposed to leave. Instead, they will remain in support of a combined military and diplomatic effort to limit Iranian and Russian influence over post-war reconstruction. “That means we are not in a hurry,” Jeffrey said, adding that he was “confident” Trump supports what he called a “more active approach” in Syria.
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.
There is no confirmation of any information provided by the WSJ and the report provides no evidence of any of its claims.