US warns Syrian regime chemical attack is being planned
Syria's regime is planning a new chemical attack on Idlib, the US warned this weekend, with preparations for a major government assault on the opposition province underway.
President Bashar al-Assad has ordered regime forces to launch a chlorine attack on the last rebel stronghold in Syria, according to the Wall Street Journal, in conjunction with a ground offensive on Idlib.
Such an attack could possible lead to a US military response, with leading White House officials - including President Donald Trump - all warning in recent weeks that the use of chemical weapons were a red line.
Trump has twice ordered air strikes on Syrian regime positions following two previous chemical attacks in opposition towns and villages in Idlib province and Eastern Ghouta.
The latest warning comes amid sustained reports of an imminent offensive by Damascus with the possible use of chemical weapons, but it is unclear if this would include the less deadly chemical chlorine, which the regime has frequently deployed during the war.
"We haven't said that the US would use the military in response to an offensive," a senior US official told the business daily.
"We have political tools at our disposal, we have economic tools at our disposal. There are a number of different ways we could respond if Assad were to take that reckless, dangerous step."
The official said that intelligence had pointed to Assad giving the green light for the use of chlorine on the province which is home to more than 3 million civilians, but it was not clear if he had approved the deployment of the much more deadly sarin nerve gas.
Such measures could include sanctions targeting Syrian government officials, but Washington's rhetoric against the regime has stepped up in recent weeks.
"We've started using new language," he said, referring to the planned assault on Idlib, which would likely kill thousands.
Trump has also warned of "consequences" of a brutal attack on Idlib, as seen during other regime offensives on rebel areas.
Russian and Syrian state media have accused the US, France, UK and rebels of planning a "false flag" chemical attack on Idlib, which has been rejected by Washington and analysts.