President Trump issued a tweet-storm Sunday in response to an alleged gas attack on civilians in Syria by government forces, ripping “that animal Assad” and laying blame for the Syrian president’s power on Russia, Iran and even President Barack Obama.
Trump tweeted after the White Helmets, a civil defense force in rebel-held areas of Syria, said entire families were gassed to death Saturday night in Douma and East Ghouta. The group, which put the death toll at more than 40, said many residents were hiding in cellars, suffocating from poison gas.
Syrian state media said Sunday that rebel forces led by the Army of Islam had agreed to leave Douma within 48 hours as Syrian leader Bashar Assad tightened his grip on rebel strongholds around Damascus.
“Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria,” Trump said on Twitter. “Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world.”
The attack came less than a week after Trump, speaking about Syria, declared “I want to bring our troops back home.” A day later, however, the White House signaled that a U.S. withdrawal from Syria is not imminent.
On Twitter on Sunday, Trump demanded that the area be opened up for medical help and verification of a chemical attack, which would constitute a war crime. He called the attack another “humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
Trump blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran for providing support to Assad. Trump also blamed Obama for allowing Assad to cross his predecessor’s “state Red Line in the Sand.” If Obama had acted years ago, Trump said, the Syrian crisis would have ended long ago and Assad would have passed into history.
The White Helmets said more than 500 people, most of them women and children, were brought to local medical centers with symptoms consistent of exposure to a chemical agent. Patients showed signs of respiratory distress, burned eyes, foaming of the mouth and other symptoms that included “emission of chlorine-like odor,” the group said.
The reports could not immediately be verified independently, and Syria and Russia denied that any chemical weapons were used. Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, who heads Russia’s center for Syrian reconciliation, blamed the allegations on White Helmets’ “fake news.”
“We strongly reject this information and confirm readiness after Douma is liberated from militants to send Russian specialists in radiation, chemical and biological protection to collect data to confirm that these statements are fabricated,” Yevtushenko said.
The attack comes one year after claims of a similar attack in Syria’s Idlib province that killed almost 100 people, including women and children. An investigation by the international watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed that sarin nerve gas was used on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Photos and video of the aftermath that included children dying on camera sparked global outrage directed at the Assad regime. Trump cited the images when he launched cruise missiles on a Syrian-controlled air base.
Accusations of similar, smaller chemical attacks have been made by rebels and their supporters since that attack.
The Syrian Women’s Political Movement urged the international community to end its “blatant complacency” in the face of the attacks. The group issued a statement calling for the U.N. to send in teams to investigate Saturday’s attack and to treat the victims.
“The ongoing silence of the international community and its failure to protect civilians in Syria is a disgrace for humanity,” the statement said. “One that history will remember.”
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