Defense Secretary James Mattis condemned Tuesday’s deadly chemical attack in northern Syria as a “heinous” act by the Assad regime, vowing to push for an U.S. response to what the State Department has characterized as a blatant war crime.
It was the Pentagon chief’s first public comments on the the attack, in which Syrian warplanes dropped bombs armed with Sarin nerve gas — a weapon banned by the international rules of war — on anti-government enclaves in the northern Syria’s Idlib province.
“It was a heinous act and will be treated as such,” Mr. Mattis told reporters Wednesday before a meeting with Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen at the Pentagon.
He declined to provide details as to what kind of options were being mulled inside the Pentagon in response to the attack, which left 58 dead, including 11 children, and stoked worldwide outcry against the Assad regime’s atrocities during the six-year Syrian civil war.
President Trump struck a similar tone Wednesday at the White House, promising an American response to the attack while remaining mum on the details.
When asked what kind of action Washington is weighing against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Mr. Trump simply replied “you’ll see.” His comments came during a meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan in the Oval Office.
His comments came amid reports that Syrian fighters had once again resumed aerial bombardments of anti-Assad forces in Idlib, a long standing redoubt for rebel forces battling to oust the Syrian strongman. No chemical weapons have been reported as part of the new round of airstrikes in northern Syria, according to local reports.
Both men avoided setting any definitive red lines on the Assad regime over its use of chemical weapons, a move that eventually stymied the Obama White House’s Syria policy after initially setting a red line then backing off a military response at the last minute.
Holding photographs of child victims of the Idlib strike, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley demanded the council take action against the Assad’s regime and its deplorable actions to quash rebel forces.
“There are times we are compelled to do more than just talk,” she told council members during an emergency meeting of the council on Wednesday.
Syrian diplomats and their Russian counterparts on the United Nation’s Security Council denied Assad’s forces used chemical weapons against rebel-held Idlib.
The Russian Ministry of Defense claimed the Syrian strikes were targeting a rebel arms depot, which included chemical weapons, and the facility’s deadly toxins were released in the aftermath of the airstrike.
• S.A. Miller and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.
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