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US warns Syrian regime against carrying out gas attacks

Mattis warned the Syrian regime against using weaponised gas against civilians. [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 March, 2018

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The warning came amid reports that Bashar al-Assad's forces have used chlorine gas in the rebel-held district of Eastern Ghouta.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis on Sunday warned the Syrian regime against using weaponised gas against civilians, saying it would be "very unwise".

The warning came amid reports that Bashar al-Assad's forces have used chlorine gas in the rebel-held district of Eastern Ghouta.

"We have made it very clear that it would be very unwise to use gas against people, civilians on any battlefield," Mattis told reporters accompanying him on a trip to Oman.

"I just want to reiterate that it would be very unwise for them to use weaponised gas, and I think President Trump made that very clear early in his administration."

Mattis said he was aware of "an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas," but indicated he did not have conclusive evidence.

US President Donald Trump last April ordered a missile strike against a regime airbase at Shayrat, after Washington said it used the facility to launch a sarin nerve gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing scores of civilians.

The use of chlorine as a weapon is banned under international law and Russia was supposed to oversee the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. 
Click here for our coverage of Eastern
Ghouta.

The fact that Assad may still have chemical weapons shows "either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad," Mattis said.

Regime forces have been pounding Eastern Ghouta for nearly three weeks in an assault that has killed over 1,000 civilians.

Mattis also took aim at Russia, which has been propping up Assad's regime since 2015 and carrying out military operations in rebel-held areas.

Assad "could not be in power absent Russia's unfortunate veto in the UN years ago and the Russians' full-throated military support for Assad," he said.

Mattis declined to say whether the use of gas would represent some sort of trigger that would prompt a US military response.

"The president has full political manoeuver room to take the decision that he believes appropriate," he said.

"There are other Western nations that have been in contact with us that are watching this very closely and are completely aligned with us and what I just said - that it would be very unwise for someone to use gas."

Eastern Ghouta is home to around 400,000 people living under a crippling regime siege since 2013. 

The United Nations has demanded a month-long ceasefire there to allow for aid to be brought in and for desperately sick and wounded civilians to receive treatment.

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