Eli Ridder | The Avro Post
British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to convene a meeting of her cabinet on Thursday to discuss the government’s response to the alleged chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime last week.
Lawmakers will consider whether or not to back military action that was threatened by the United States and allies such as France and escalated on Thursday when U.S. President Donald Trump said Russia should expect Syrian strikes.
Ms. May has previously said “all the indications” point to the Syrian government under its president, Bashar al-Assad, as responsible for the chemical attack, which Damascus denies.
The U.S. and France vowed a “firm” response earlier this week and movements in the Middle East region, military brass moving in and out of the White House and flight rerouting by Syria shows anticipation of an incoming air assault by allies.
The U.S. maintained that “all options are on the table” for its response to the alleged chemical attack the Syrian government carried out last week following threats of a missile attack from President Donald Trump on Wednesday.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders would not go into further detail regarding the a possible U.S. strike, repeating that Mr. Trump had several options for a response to Syria, despite the president specifically suggesting earlier that an attack was imminent.
Mr. Trump tweeted in the morning that missiles “will be coming” to the condemnation of Russia, who blames the White Helmets, a Syrian rescue group, for the purported chemical weapons strike on April 7 that Syria denies responsibility for.
Ms. Sanders also said that Russia plays a role in determining whether it becomes an enemy of Washington in regards to what she described as being a “bad actor”.
The suspected chemical strike in Douma may have affected some 500 people, according to the World Health Organization.
The WHO said the mass of people had been seen at medical facilities exhibiting symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals.
On Monday, Trump said that there would be a decision made within 48 hours, vowing a “firm” response with ally French President Emmanuel Macron, but Sanders on Wednesday said the president “has not laid out a timetable”.
The United Kingdom was more vocal on Wednesday, saying that “All indications are that this was the responsibility of the Syrian regime and we will now work with our closest allies to see how we can ensure that those responsible are held to account.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May ordered submarines to move within missile range of Syria in preparation for a strike, the Telegraph reported.
Other U.S. allies such as Canada gave their condemnation over the attack for violating international law on the day it happened, but so far it appears that only the U.S., U.K. and France would participate in a multi-lateral attack on Syrian government forces.
Kuwait Airways has announced it has decided to stop flights to Beirut from Thursday onward until further notice on the basis of security warnings from the Cypriot authorities which say it is dangerous to fly in the atmosphere surrounding Lebanon.
Trump: ‘Get ready’
Trump warned Russia to “get ready” for missiles to be fired into Syria on Wednesday morning after Moscow said it would shoot down any projectiles that target its ally Damascus.
Last Saturday, the Syrian government allegedly carried out a chemical attack on a the then-rebel enclave of Douma in Eastern Ghouta with the World Health Organization saying some 500 were affected by gas symptoms.
Washington, France and the United Kingdom have been considering a coalition military response and investigators from a chemical weapons watchdog are arriving to determine whether an attack occurred.
The U.S. president tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’”
“You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it,” he continued, in apparent reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
It comes just hours after Russia warned the U.S. not to strike in Syria.
Russia in response said on Wednesday that U.S. strikes would destroy evidence of the suspected chemical weapons attack, which contrasts with the Kremlin’s previous stance where they denied involvement.
Moscow also published a military report saying that the chemical attack was carried out by the White Helmets, a nonpartisan rescue organization that works to save human lives in Syria.
Trump followed up over 30 minutes after the initial tweet with a post apparently calling for peace, saying that the Russian economy needs help from the U.S. and asking: “Stop the arms race?”
“Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this,” he tweeted, in what came across as a different tone from the previous tweet.
A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman responded to U.S. Trump’s call to end “the arms race” by saying “great idea, let’s start with U.S. chemical weapons”.
Syria’s state news agency responded to Trump’s tweets as well, saying the threats bring about an “reckless escalation”.
Shortly before noon on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defence James Mattis said that the Pentagon was “ready” to provide military options for Syria.
Syria and Russia say that the West has no evidence of the attack and deny carrying out such an attack.
Turkish Prime Minister Yıldırım urged Russia and the U.S. to stop “street fighting” over Syria.
Trump blamed much of the tensions with Russia on the investigation into alleged collusion between his presidential campaign and the Kremlin in a third tweet.
“Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama,” he tweeted.
“Mueller is most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!”
The Russian ruble experienced a significant value drop following Mr. Trump’s first tweet.
Trump’s missile strike comments appear to reference statements made by Russian envoy to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin who said in an interview on Tuesday that Russia will “shoot down U.S. rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.”
Mr. Zasypkin said “if there is a U.S. missile attack, we–in line with both [Russian President] Putin and Russia’s chief-of-staff’s remarks–will shoot down” the U.S. weaponry.
U.S. officials have declined to comment on future operations, with the Pentagon remaining silent saying it “does not comment on potential future military action”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said hours after Trump’s tweet that the situation in the world is worrying and Russia will build constructive relations with foreign partners.
Theresa May said the “continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged” and that the U.K. will work with its “closest allies” to see how those responsible for the latest attack in Syria can be held to account.
Moscow and London have had their own bilateral tensions following the nerve agent positioning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.
Oil prices surged to their highest level since December 2014 amid warnings of a possible missile strike, with Brent Crude rising to $71.33 USD per barrel late on Tuesday.
Syria is not a key oil producer, but any Middle Eastern military tensions affect the entire region, the top oil exporter in the world.
Analysts have said that while a team from the chemical weapons prohibition organization was on the ground, the likelihood of a strike is much less.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said their fact-finding mission would deploy “shortly” on Tuesday.
An aircraft part of the North American Treaty Organization, or NATO, circled in Turkey, just a few kilometres from the Syrian border, for several hours on Wednesday.
In Cyprus, British Tornados are on stand-by.
There has been no official Western confirmation of when and where a strike would occur in Syria.
Russia: Avoid military force
Moscow urged Washington on Tuesday to avoid military force in response to the alleged chemical attack in Douma that several U.S. allies blame the Syrian government for, amid heightened speculation that the coalition may strike.
“It will be met, and it will be met forcefully,”
Western leaders have agreed to work together to target the perpetrators behind the unconfirmed chlorine strike that hit a then-rebel enclave last Saturday, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying any strikes would target chemical facilities.
“I would once against beseech you to refrain from the plans that you’re currently developing,” Russian envoy to the United States Vasily Nebenzia said, warning Washington that it will “bear responsibility” for any “illegal military adventure”.
The warning came as reports emerged that U.S.-led coalition warplanes had been spotted near Syria in Iraq and Jordan.
M. Nebenzia spoke during an emergency meeting of the U.S. Security Council where a U.S. proposal to open a new investigation into the purported strike was vetoed by Russia and China abstained.
A counter-proposal by the Russian envoy also failed to pass, however, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, is sending a team set to arrive in Syria “shortly” to determine whether banned weapons were used.
OPCW investigators will not be looking to track the source of any violations, and thus there is a space for a secondary probe.
Syrian government forces were put on “high alert” on Tuesday for the following 72 hours in response to the suspected incoming attack by U.S. and allied forces.
Eurocontrol warned airlines to exercise caution in the Eastern Mediterranean due to possible launch of air strikes into Syria in next 72 hours, Reuters news agency reported.
The head of the Duma defense committee in Russia has said that his country would take all measures, including military options, in response to a U.S. strike on forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Trump cancels trip
Mr. Trump cancelled his first official trip to Latin America on Tuesday to focus on the U.S. response to the alleged Syrian chemical attack in Douma.
Trump will remain in Washington to “oversee the American response to Syria”, the White House said, with Vice President Mike Pence going in his place to Peru for a major summit and then on to Colombia.
Syria and ally Russia have denied any involvement in Saturday’s attack that reportedly hospitalized hundreds and invited the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to visit the former rebel enclave in Eastern Ghouta.
The chemical weapons monitor agreed later on Tuesday to send investigators to Douma, reportedly lessening the chance of a strike from Western countries.
Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron vowed a “firm” response late on Monday, and the U.S. president has spoken of numerous military options.
Washington, Paris and the United Kingdom have been in contact over a potential multi-lateral Western military response to the chemical attack.
France says poison gas was deliberately utilized in Douma, but the United Nations has not verified the strikes at this point as the area is blocked off.
An attack on an airbase near Homs in the early hours of Monday attributed by Moscow and Damascus to Israel was apparently in retaliation, but Tel Aviv has not confirmed the strikes, as per their policy.
The U.S., U.K. and France denied involvement in the Homs attack.
More details to follow. Image of the British Parliament from Lifeboat Foundation.