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Mattis says USA has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas

Mattis says USA has no evidence of Syrian use of sarin gas”

President Donald Trump has not ruled out additional military action to deter attacks or punish Assad over chemical weapons attacks, administration officials said, although they did not suggest any action was imminent.

The officials briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The comments came a day after Washington warned it was prepared to consider military action if necessary to deter chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government.

The United States is concerned that sarin gas may have been recently used in Syria, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday, as Washington steps up the pressure on Bashar al-Assad's regime to put an end to chemical attacks.

"Chemical weapons are being used in Ghouta and we have proof", SNC spokesman Yahya al-Aridi told Reuters.

A war monitor said at least 20 civilians were killed in Syrian government air strikes on rebel-held territory in the country's north on Thursday and three children were killed in artillery strikes on Eastern Ghouta.

Barrel bombs used earlier in the war to disperse chemicals indiscriminately, for example, have been replaced by ground-launched munitions, the officials said, according to AP.

Another official added that there were hopes an increased diplomatic pressure with global sanctions will rein in the Syrian regime's chemical weapons programme. What I'm saying is groups on the ground, NGOs, fighters on the ground have said that sarin has been used.

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The two officials said Russian Federation knows exactly what its client state Syria is doing, despite public protestations to the contrary, which are meant to sow doubt in the public with a wink at Washington.

"We're on the record and you all have seen how we reacted to that", Mattis told reporters Friday, adding that Syria would be "ill-advised to go back to violating the chemical convention" - a reference to a 2013 agreement that had Russia, Syria's largest ally, responsible for removing all chemical weapons from Syria.

The reports could not be independently verified. The accounts came after a suspected chemical attack in late January near Damascus that activists and rescue teams said affected almost 20 civilians.

Jan Egeland, United Nations humanitarian adviser, called on Thursday for a humanitarian pause in Eastern Ghouta where hundreds await medical evacuation.

Syria's war has killed more than 340,000 people and displaced millions since it began in March 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

State news agency SANA said seven people died in apparent retaliatory shelling of nearby government-held Damascus. "The situation is screaming for a cease-fire".

The meeting did not address the future role of Assad, who US officials have said must be transitioned from power.



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