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Pentagon sees ‘active preparations’ by Syria for chemical attack

Spokesman cites bustle around specific aircraft, hangar on Shayrat airfield known to be associated with toxic gas warfare

This Oct. 7, 2016 satellite image released by the US Department of Defense shows Shayrat air base in Syria. (DigitalGlobe/U.S. Department of Defense via AP)
This Oct. 7, 2016 satellite image released by the US Department of Defense shows Shayrat air base in Syria. (DigitalGlobe/U.S. Department of Defense via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Tuesday said it detected “active preparations” by Syria for a chemical weapons attack, giving weight to a White House statement hours earlier that the Syrian government would “pay a heavy price” if it carried out such an attack.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said the US had seen “activity” at Shayrat airfield that “indicated active preparations for chemical weapons use.” That is the same base from which the Syria air force launched an attack in April that the US and others said used lethal chemicals to kill civilians. Syria denied the charge.

“This involved a specific aircraft, a specific hangar both of which we know to be associated with chemical weapon use,” Davis added.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and Russia dismissed the White House allegation that Damascus was preparing a new chemical weapons attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “such threats to Syria’s legitimate leaders are unacceptable.” Russia is Assad’s key backer and sided with him when he denied responsibility for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Idlib province on April 4.

The US responded to that attack by hitting the airfield with dozens of cruise missiles.

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, April 4, 2017. (AFP/Mohamed al-Bakour)
Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, April 4, 2017. (AFP/Mohamed al-Bakour)

A Monday evening statement by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the US had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

Spicer said the activities were similar to preparations taken before the attack in April, but provided no evidence or further explanation.

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