By Siraj Wahab and Joyce Karam
The US has warned of unilateral action if the UN fails to act over a suspected chemical attack in Syria, which President Donald Trump said “crossed a lot of lines.”
At least 72 people, among them 20 children, were killed in the strike on Khan Sheikhun, with dozens more left gasping for air, convulsing, and foaming at the mouth, doctors said.
Britain, France and the US presented a draft UN resolution demanding a full investigation of the attack, but Russia said the text was “categorically unacceptable.”
The Western trio blame President Bashar Assad’s forces for the attack, but the Syrian Army has denied any involvement.
Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, said at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council that her country could take unilateral action.
She lashed out at Russia for failing to rein in its ally Syria. “When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action,” Haley said. “How many more children have to die before Russia cares?”
Trump, in his first joint press conference with Jordan’s King Abdallah, called the attack “horrific against innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies,” adding that “their deaths were an affront to humanity.”
He said “the heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated … the US stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack and all other horrific attacks, for that matter.”
Asked if he considered the attack a breach of a red line similar to the one put by his predecessor Barack Obama in 2012, Trump said: “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”
Raghida Dergham, New York-based columnist and bureau chief for the Al-Hayat newspaper, described Trump’s tough talk as a “significant new development.”
“This pours cold water on previous assessments that the Trump administration was going to live happily ever after with Bashar Assad,” she told Arab News. “That is not the case anymore.”
She said if it was conclusively proven that the regime in Damascus was behind the gas attack, “then Trump’s words about it crossing ‘a lot of (red) lines’ are like putting the regime on notice.”
She said Trump’s words may or may not translate into a military action immediately, but it does end the contradictory statements that have been issued on Syria. “This is a new threshold and a serious development,” she added.
The news came as international donors on Wednesday pledged $6 billion in aid for Syria. Donors from more than 70 countries meeting at a conference on Syria in Brussels made a “collective pledge of $6 billion for this year alone,” EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said.