The US President Donald Trump has warned Russia “missiles will be coming, nice and new and smart” in Syria, in response to Russia’s claim it would shoot down any missiles fired in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma.
- Donald Trump has warned of a quick, forceful response
- Syrian Government, Russia deny that gas attack happened
- Russian lawmaker says US attack would be considered ‘war crime’
Mr Trump said on Twitter Russia should not be partners with “a Gas Killing Animal”, seemingly referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The US and its allies have been considering whether to hit Syria over the suspected poison gas attack that medical relief organisations say killed dozens of people.
A senior Russian lawmaker warned the US that Russia would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime.
Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Andrei Krasov, deputy chairman of the State Duma’s defence committee, as saying Russia would treat a US airstrike on Syria “not just as an act of aggression but a war crime of the Western coalition”.
Earlier the World Health Organisation said some 500 patients showed signs of exposure to toxic chemicals following the shelling of Douma on the weekend.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) earlier said patients at health facilities showed “signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed”.
A WHO statement on Wednesday did not confirm outright that a chemical weapons attack had taken place.
WHO also cited reports about the deaths of more than 70 people who sheltered in basements, saying 43 of those people who died had shown “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals”.
“WHO demands immediate unhindered access to the area to provide care to those affected, to assess the health impacts, and to deliver a comprehensive public health response,” Peter Salama, WHO deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response, said.
Russia warns US against airstrike
Mr Trump has previously warned of a quick, forceful response once responsibility for the Syria attack is established, but the Syrian Government and its ally Russia have denied that such an attack ever happened.
Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any US missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted — a step that could trigger a major escalation in the Syrian war.
Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin said he was referring to a statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian armed forces chief of staff.
The Russian military said on March 13 it would respond to any US strike on Syria, targeting any missiles and launchers involved in such an attack. Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful ally.
“If there is a strike by the Americans, then the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” Mr Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV.
A medical worker giving toddlers oxygen through respirators following an alleged poison gas attack. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
He also said a clash “should be ruled out and therefore we are ready to hold negotiations”.
European airspace authorities have warned aircraft to be careful over the next days when flying close to Syria because of possible military action against Mr Assad’s forces.
The Eurocontrol airspace organisation said the European Aviation Safety Agency had sent a “rapid alert notification” that flight operations needed to consider the possibility of air or missile strikes into Syria.
Russia and the US blocked attempts by each other in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday to set up international investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Mr Trump on Tuesday cancelled a planned trip to Latin America later this week to focus instead on responding to the Syria incident, the White House said.
Russia has been a key backer of Mr Assad, providing air cover for his offensive against the Islamic State group and Syrian rebels. Russian military advisers are deployed at many Syrian Government facilities.