Russia KNEW about Syrian gas attack in advance – and about a bid to cover it up by bombing hospital treating Assad’s victims, say U.S. officials
The United States has concluded Russia knew in advance of Syria’s chemical weapons attack last week, a senior U.S. official said Monday.
The official said a drone operated by Russians was flying over a hospital as victims of the attack were rushing to get treatment.
Hours after the drone left, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the hospital in what American officials believe was an attempt to cover up the usage of chemical weapons.
The official said the presence of the surveillance drone over the hospital couldn’t have been a coincidence, and that Russia must have known the chemical weapons attack was coming and that victims were seeking treatment.
Complicit: U.S. officials have concluded that Russia knew about the plan for a gas attack Is this evidence Russia knew? After the attack a projectile hit Rahma hospital, bringing down rubble on top of medics as they struggled to treat victims, according to local reports. Officials did not disclose if this was the hospital
Mohammed Hassoun, a media activist in nearby Sarmin – also in Idlib province where some of the critical cases were transferred – said the hospital there had been equipped to deal with such chemical attacks because the town was struck in one chemical attack, early on in the Syrian uprising Syrian activists said that makeshift hospitals soon crowded with people suffocating from toxins following the attack
An aerial view shows the damaged done by a chemical weapons attack alleged to have been committed by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib earlier this week. The US says its strike was in retaliation for the Idlib attack A devastated father has been pictured cradling the bodies of his dead twins after they were killed during the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in the rebel-held central province of Idlib, Syria
The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on intelligence matters and demanded anonymity, didn’t give precise timing for when the drone was above the northern Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun, where more than 80 people were killed.
He also didn’t provide all the details for the military and intelligence information that form the basis of what he said the Pentagon has now concluded.
The allegation is grave, even by the standards of the currently dismal U.S.-Russian relations.
Although Russia has steadfastly supported Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, and they’ve coordinated military attacks together, Washington has never previously accused Moscow of complicity in any attack that involved the gassing of innocent civilians, including children.
The former Cold War foes even worked together in 2013 to remove and destroy more than 1,300 tons of Syrian chemical weapons and agents.
Until Monday, U.S. officials had said they weren’t sure whether Russia or Syria operated the drone. The official said the U.S. is now convinced Russia controlled the drone.
The official said it still isn’t clear who was flying the jet that bombed the hospital, because the Syrians also fly Russian-made aircraft.
U.S. officials previously have said Russians routinely work with Syrians at the Shayrat air base where the attack is supposed to have originated. U.S. officials say the chemical weapons were stored there.
Those elements, the senior official said, add to the conclusion that Russia was complicit in the attack.
Last Thursday 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired on the government-controlled base in the United States’ first direct military action against Assad’s forces.
The U.S. has been focusing its military action in Syria on defeating the Islamic State group.
On Monday, Col. John J. Thomas, a U.S. military spokesman, said the U.S. has taken extra defensive precautions in Syria in case of possible retaliation against American forces for the cruise missile attack.
Local reports quoted doctors saying the chemical that killed dozens of people in the region could have been chlorine or sarin, a colorless, odorless liquid nerve agent that’s used as a chemical weapon
Thomas told reporters at the Pentagon that the increased emphasis on defensive measures to protect U.S. troops on the ground in Syria led to a slight and temporary decline in offensive U.S. airstrikes against IS in Syria.
There has been no Syrian retaliation so far for the cruise missile attack, which destroyed or rendered inoperable more than 20 Syria air force planes, he said.
Thomas said the U.S. intends to return to full offensive air operations against IS as soon as possible.
The warning from the Pentagon came as Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, snubbed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he’s in Moscow on Wednesday.
Putin is passing Tillerson off to his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.
The Kremlin did not say why the Russian president was avoiding Tillerson after meeting repeatedly with his predecessor, John Kerry, in the Obama years.
But it had ripped the US for its air assault in Syria and warned Donald Trump that he was ‘one step from war’ with the country after the attack.
Leveling the charge that Putin’s military knew about the attack in advance will only increase the tension.
For the first time since Trump approved airstrikes on Assad’s military the White House articulated its goals in the country this afternoon and the role it wants Russia to play in the process it believes will lead to Assad’s demise.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump would not set the kind of ‘red line’ that Barack Obama issued, then erased, or telegraph his actions.
Yet, he warned Assad that chemical weapons attacks will have consequences. ‘Further action will be definitely be considered by the United States,’ Spicer asserted.
‘Not just Syria, but the world saw last week, is a president that is going to act decisively and proportionally and with justification when it comes to actions like that,’ Spicer said. ‘If you gas a baby, if you put a barrel bomb in to innocent people…you will see a response from this president. That is unacceptable.’
Spicer said the administration’s focus is two-fold in Syria moving forward: defeating ISIS and regime change.
‘I can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where [Assad] is in power.’ he said. ‘I think we all recognize that that happens, and there can be a multi-pronged approach, where assuring ISIS is contained and there’s a deescalation of the proliferation of chemical weapons, at the same time creating the environment for a change in leadership.’
Russian President Vladimir Putin won’t meet with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (center) when he’s in Moscow on Wednesday – an apparent snub after the Trump administration dropped bombs on Syria last week
In a direct contradiction to Tillerson, who said Sunday that ISIS must be decimated before a political process to ease Assad out can begin, Spicer said one does not have to come before the other.
‘I think they kind of go hand in hand,’ he said. Clarifying, Trump’s spokesman stated, ‘I don’t think those are mutually exclusive statements.’
Tillerson is in Europe for meetings with the United States’ allies in the fight against ISIS, with plans to stop in Moscow on Wednesday.
The diplomat said Thursday evening after Trump’s airstrike that Russia was either incompetent or complicit in Assad’s atrocities. The officials’ intervention on Monday significantly raises the ante on Russia.
Russia offered to destroy the country’s chemical weapons in 2013, attesting afterward that it did. It obviously failed to live up to that commitment, the U.S. says.
The Assad ally claims that airstrikes on terrorists led to an inadvertent hit on a warehouse storing the toxins that poisoned and killed 83 people.
Experts say the explanation is unlikely. The US, UK and other nations have blamed Assad.
‘There’s no question who acted in this case and what Syria did,’ Spicer said Monday, rebutting Russia’s claims that Assad did not deploy chemical weapons.
Spicer said Tillerson will make sure that Russia ‘fully understands’ the situation on the ground and remind the Kremlin of the agreement it made with the international community to oversea the elimination of Assad’s chemical stockpile.
‘Getting them back on the same page, first and foremost, would seem the logical step,’ he said. ‘But secondly, and I guess equally important is to make sure that the areas we can find a commitment to defeat ISIS is something that we share.’
REVEALED: ASSAD’S GENERAL WHO ‘DROPPED SARIN BOMB’ IN GAS ATTACK – AND HAD DONE IT BEFORE
The pilot who carried out the sarin gas attack which killed 87 Syrian civilians is an Assad general who carried out a similar attack last month, it is reported.
General Mohammed Hasouri, a squadron commander in Assad’s army, was pictured being congratulated for the raid in Khan Shaykhun last Tuesday on Twitter .
Fares Shehabi, the MP for Aleppo and a high-ranking member of the Assad regime, posted an image on social media of Hasouri shaking hands with General Ali Abdullah Ayoub, the chief of the general staff of the Syrian Army.
It is thought that General Hasouri dropped the sarin gas bomb which killed 87. Assad’s regime claims it bombed al-Qaeda weapons dumps which released the nerve agent.
Shehabi captioned the image: ‘Syrian army chief of staff thanks General Haytham Hasouri for destroying Qaeda’s weapons facilities in Khan Sheikhoun, Edlib.’
It is thought Shehabi used a false first name to try to protect the general’s identity, though the image matches previous pictures of him. A source also confirmed to The Times that the man in the picture was Mohammed Hasouri.
Assad’s regime maintains that it did not drop chemical weapons on Khan Shaykhun, a farming village near Homs, and says it bombed Jihadi weapons stores which released the deadly nerve agent.
But experts have rubbished that theory, saying sarin gas would be destroyed by an explosion, rather than dispersed.
The Times also claims that General Hasouri was behind another gas attack in the village of Latamineh, 15 miles from Khan Shaykhun, on March 30.
Fares Shehabi, the MP for Aleppo, posted an image on Twitter of General Mohammed Hasouri (left) at Shayrat airbase being congratulated for a raid on Khan Sheikhoun It is thought that General Hasouri dropped the sarin gas bomb which killed 87. Assad’s regime claims it bombed al-Qaeda weapons dumps which released the nerve agent General Hasouri is also believed to have taken part in another gas bomb raid last month which sickened 70 in a town around 15 miles from Khan Shaykhun
President Trump carried out a Tomahawk missile attack against Shayrat airbase after aides say he was horrified by images of the gas attack victims
Around 70 people were sickened in that attack, with doctors describing victims as suffering spasms and foaming at the mouth. Fortunately nobody was killed.
Experts also said that General Hasouri would almost certainly have known he was dropping chemical agents, as the target area would have differed from a conventional bomb attack.
Chemical weapons have to be dropped upwind of the target area, with ideal weather conditions so the gas does not evaporate too quickly or blow away too fast.
There were reports on Monday that General Hasouri had been killed in a carbomb attack, though these could not be verified.
The General is chief of staff for air force brigade 50 and originally from the town of Talkalakh, near the Lebanese border, which has seen heavy fighting between rebel forces and those loyal to Assad.
General Hasouri is an Alawite, a Shia Muslim sect that counts Assad himself as a member. Most of the dictator’s high-ranking officials are also Alawite.