The Syrian government’s suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians last week amounts to a “war crime,” the US State Department has said. It also ridiculed comments by President Bashar al-Assad in an interview with AFP to the effect that the alleged attack was fabricated by the United States to justify an American military strike. “Sadly, it’s vintage Assad. It is an attempt by him to throw up false flags, create confusion,” said department spokesman Mark Toner, alluding to what Assad said in the interview Wednesday. It was Assad’s first since the alleged April 4 chemical weapons attack prompted a US cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base.
The suspected chemical attack killed at least 87 people, including many children, and images of the dead and of suffering victims provoked global outrage. “Frankly, it’s a tactic we’ve seen on Russia’s part as well in the past,” Toner told a daily press briefing.
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Echoing charges by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Toner said there can be little doubt that the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province was carried out by Syrian government forces. “It wasn’t only a violation of the laws of war but it was a — we believe, a war crime,” Toner said.
Tillerson, visiting Moscow on Wednesday, addressed the issue of the chemical weapons attack but he stopped short of calling it a war crime.
Tillerson did raise the prospect of criminal proceedings at some point over the attack, including against Assad himself, but warned there were be major legal obstacles to this.