US Holding Syria, Russia Accountable for Chemical Weapons Attack in Douma
U.S. officials are expressing "high confidence" that Syria carried out last week's chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma, promising the West will respond and that all options remain on the table.
Despite Tweets from U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this week suggesting a missile strike might be imminent, the White House, State Department, and Pentagon have been cautious in their language, emphasizing the need to forge an airtight case against the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
By late Friday, there were indications such a case was coming together.
"We have a very high confidence that Syria was responsible," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at a briefing.
"We also hold Russia responsible for their failure to stop chemical weapons attacks from taking place," Sanders added. "Russia's failure to stop them and their continued [inaction] on this front has been part of the problem."
The State Department went one step further, claiming the U.S. now has definitive proof.
"We can say that the Syrian government was behind this attack," said spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
"We know that this was a chemical weapon that was used in Syria," Nauert said. "The kind or the mix, that we are still looking into."
Despite such confidence, other U.S. officials remained wary, warning while Syria's use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated, much more is at stake given the backing it gets from Moscow.
"This is a chess game and the Russians are ratcheting up the pressure," a U.S. official told VOA on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. "They're playing dirty," the official added. "We need to think two or three steps ahead."
Russia, long an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has warned a military conflict could erupt if the U.S. and its Western allies take action in Syria.
"We hope that ... the U.S. and their allies will refrain from military action against a sovereign state," Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia said Friday.
Also Friday, Moscow alleged it had "proof that testifies to the direct participation of Britain" in staging the chemical attack in Douma.
Britain pressured the White Helmets, volunteers and activists who serve as first responders in rebel-held areas, to stage the attack, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said.
Britain called the allegation a "blatant lie."
Gaza Ministry: 1 Dead, Hundreds Injured as Violence Erupts Along Gaza-Israeli Border
The Gaza Health Ministry said one Palestinian was killed and more than 900 others were injured Friday by Israeli troops, who used gunfire and tear gas to repel numerous attempts by Palestinians to cross the border fence separating the Palestinian-governed Gaza Strip from Israel.
The violence erupted after thousands of Palestinians staged a protest along the border, the third weekly protest scheduled through mid-May. The protests already have resulted in dozens killed and thousands injured.
The protesters gathered at tent camps several hundred meters from the border fence. Smaller groups of protesters approached the fence burning Israeli flags and tires and hurling stones, prompting Israeli soldiers to fire live bullets and tear gas. Israel's military said some protesters in the crowd threw firebombs and explosive devices while others tried to breach the border fence.
The Gaza Health Ministry said a 28-year-old man was fatally shot. It said more than 900 others protesters were injured, 223 of them by gunshots. Ten nurses and paramedics and two journalists were among the wounded, according to the ministry.
The protesters are demanding an end to the decade-old blockade and a return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel, where their ancestors lived before being forced to flee after the establishment of Israel in 1948. Israel repeatedly has ruled out any right of their return over concerns Israel would lose its Jewish majority.
Some rights groups maintain Israel's open-fire rules are unlawful because troops potentially can use lethal force against unarmed protesters. Amnesty International demanded Friday that Israel "put an immediate end to the excessive and lethal force being used to suppress Palestinian demonstrations in Gaza." It also reiterated its demand for an independent probe into the killings.