The White House late Monday said it has identified the possibility of another chemical weapons attack in Syria, and the Pentagon on Tuesday confirmed this – but Syria denied the allegations.
The White House warned that Syria would pay a “heavy price” were the country to launch another toxic gas attack such as the deadly incident from April, when the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun was struck by a government airstrike that released a toxic agent, possibly sarin gas, which reportedly killed at least 74 people and injured more than 557 others. This was reportedly the deadliest chemical weapons attack in the country since 2013.
According to various reports, a Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said on Tuesday that the the U.S. had “seen activity” at Shayrat airfield in Syria that “indicated active preparations for chemical weapons use.”
A senior Syrian minister, Ali Haidar, told the Al Jazeera news agency on Tuesday that this is not true, and the United States is only looking to set up a “diplomatic battle” against Syria.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a statement that said the country has identified “potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack.”
“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” Spicer said. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack. ”
“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Spicer said. “If, however, Mr. Assad [Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian President] conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
According to the Associated Press, “a non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east or south of the country, where government troops and allied forces have faced recent setbacks.”
Nikkie Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, said that if a chemical attack happens again, “we are putting you [Syria] on notice.”
The unrest in Syria stems from its civil war, since 2011, which Assad fights with the country’s allies against the United States and various opposing forces, including rebel groups, which are fighting the Islamic State (ISIS).
Russia and Iran support Asaad, who is seen as having the advantage in the conflict.
The AP reported Tuesday that a senior Russian lawmaker said this U.S. warning is a “provocation.”
Assad denied using chemical weapons or that the April toxic gas attack took place, and Russia said the gas was released when Syria attacked a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory, according to a report.
President Donald Trump ordered for a missile strike on the Syrian base in April following the gas attack, which was seen as his first major military move as President.