Donald Trump said on Sunday there would be a “big price to pay” for an apparent chemical weapons attack on a rebel enclave in Syria. The president also said Russian president Vladimir Putin and Iran were responsible for backing Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose regime is believed to have carried out the strike.
Rescue workers said at least 42 people were killed in the attack, on the besieged town of Douma near Damascus. Douma is in the rebel-held enclave of eastern Ghouta, which has previously been attacked with chlorine gas and sarin.
A year ago this weekend, Trump authorised the launch of Tomahawk missiles to hit an airfield in Syria, in response to a sarin attack on the village of Khan Sheikhun. An adviser to Trump said on Sunday he “wouldn’t take anything off the table” in terms of a response to the latest attack.
Pictures from Douma showed adults and children suffering from injuries which rescue workers said were consistent with the effects of exposure to an organophosphorus compound. An official source quoted by the Sana news agency said rebels had “fabricated” a strike.
On Twitter, Trump wrote: “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad.
“Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”
Trump also criticised his predecessor’s lack of action against the use of chemical weapons in Syria, writing: “If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In the Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!”
Trump recently said he wanted to withdraw US troops from Syria, where they have been aiding the fight against Islamic State militants. Pentagon opposition prompted him to partially back down.
Thomas Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser, appeared on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.
“We’ve seen the photos of that attack,” he said. “I think I would note, one thing that struck me is that this is the one-year anniversary of our action the last time they made the mistake of using these weapons and pushing the rest of the world.
“This is not just the United States, this is one of those issues on which every nation, all peoples have agreed and have agreed since world war two is an unacceptable practice.”
Asked if it was possible there would now be another missile attack, Bossert said: “I wouldn’t take anything off the table.
“These are horrible photos, we’re looking into the attack at this point, the state department put out a statement last night and the president’s senior national security cabinet have been talking with him all throughout the evening and this morning and myself included.”
State department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Saturday: “The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately.”
Even as Bossert said no response was off the table, however, he also echoed Trump’s argument that US forces in Syria should be decreased.
“The pendulum has swung in the wrong direction for too long,” Bossert said, arguing that other countries should put “their resources and their treasure and their boys and girls on the line, and not just American troops”.
“American troops aren’t going to fix the six or seven different ongoing conflicts and wars in the Middle East or in Syria at this stage,” he said. “We need regional partnership increased and we need US presence decreased.”