On September 12th, in an interview with Fox News, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley claimed that US and its allies, most members of the UN Security Council, would “address” an attack on civilians in Syria’s Idlib province, not just a chemical attack.
She said that any attack that hits civilians in Idlib would be “dealt with” by the US and allies, as Washington seeks to stop Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, backed by Russia, from retaking Idlib, which is the last remaining militant stronghold in the country.
Haley also warned Russia and Iran of using chemical weapons. “What we told, you know, the Syrians, the Russians and the Iranians was, well, twice — we have warned you not to use chemical weapons; twice you have used it, and twice President Trump has acted,” Haley said. “Don’t test us again. Because I think the odds are very much against them.” She was referring to the two previous alleged uses of chemical weapons by the Syrian government in April 2017 and more recently in April 2018, which prompted US and allied airstrikes on Syria.
She also recalled that the issue of the Syrian government troops allegedly preparing a chemical weapons attack on civilians was discussed at three meetings of the UN Security Council, where most of its members ostensibly cautioned Russia against conducting any such attack in Syria.
During a UN Security Council meeting on September 11th, Nikki Haley accused the Russian Federation and Iran of using “outright lies” to distort the conversation. She commented on the military escalation of over 100 air strikes being carried out on Idlib. According to her the airstrikes targeted hospitals and other medical facilities. She also mentioned “double-tap” attacks on White Helmets. Most likely regarding the video released by the White Helmets which shows members of the group attempting to rescue civilians and being targeted by airstrikes themselves.
The White Helmets group presents itself as a humanitarian civil defense organization that has allegedly saved tens of thousands of lives, both Moscow and Damascus insist that the group had ties with terrorists and extremists. Russia has accused the White Helmets of staging a chemical attack in Idlib in order to provoke a Western military intervention in Syria. The group has already filmed at least nine videos intended to serve as evidence of claims that Damascus has used chlorine against civilians in Idlib, the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria said on September 12th.
She also claimed that Syria, Russia and Iran are not interested in a political solution to Idlib, they have shown “only the actions of cowards interested in military conquest.” She also declared that the US is long past taking Iran and Russia’s word, adding that the United States strongly opposes any escalation of the violence in Idlib and that every other Council member should feel the same.
She further said that Russia and Iran are violating the de-escalation zone and show a disregard of civilian lives, calling it “absurd” to think that “the world will pay for the reconstruction as the Russian Federation pummels Idlib ahead of a military assault.”
She emphasized that Russia has the power to stop a catastrophe in Idlib. She also warned any assault there will be regarded as a reckless escalation of the conflict, with “dire consequences for which the world will hold the Russian Federation and Iran responsible.”
On early September 13th, Fox News also cited the Pentagon, which said that Russia “will bear responsibility for the resulting humanitarian crisis in Syria if the Moscow-backed Syrian military attacks the northern city of Idlib.” Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US and its allies are concerned about the deadly consequences if Syrian President Bashar Assad, with support from Russia and Iran, launches an offensive against Idlib.
Her remarks came several days after she warned Russia and Iran of “dire consequences” if they continue airstrikes against militant-held areas in Syria’s Idlib. She also blamed Damascus and Moscow of claiming that civilians are terrorists and then attacking them, without providing any evidence to back up her claims. She also once more warned against the use of chemical weapons. “I also want to reiterate what I said last week to the Assad regime and anyone else contemplating the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The United States followed through when we said that we would respond to the use of chemical weapons. We stand by this warning,” she noted.
Earlier, Maj. Gen. Alexei Tsygankov, head of the Russian Center for Syrian Reconciliation, said that “a large shipment of toxic substances, accompanied by eight representatives of the White Helmets, was delivered from the village of Afs to the settlement of Saraqib, to a warehouse used by the militants from the Ahrar al-Sham group to store weapons and fuel supplies.”
“A part of this shipment in unmarked plastic barrels was later transported to another militant base in the southern part of Idlib province in order to stage a false-flag chemical attack and subsequently accuse the government forces of the use of toxic agents against civilians,” he emphasized.
Damascus has also denied any use of chemical weapons. As cited by Sputnik, Syrian President Bashar Assad, for his part, stressed that Damascus had gotten rid of its chemical weapons stockpiles under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This has been confirmed by the OPCW.
The US, however, appear to be preparing for a response to an attack, as RT reported on September 13th that the US Navy destroyer USS Bulkeley DDG84 has arrived in the Mediterranean Sea. According to the outlet the US may have 200 Tomahawk missiles ready for an airstrike response to an attack. Several days earlier, the attack submarine USS Newport News (SSN-750) also arrived in the Mediterranean.
Around the same time as the arrival of the USS Newport News submarine, Russia conducted massive naval maneuvers off the Syrian coast, culminating in marine landing drills and missile launches.
Tensions continue rising over the situation in Idlib, with US and Turkey trying to stop an impeding attack by Assad forces. So far there appears to be no solution that appeases every party.