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Tillerson calls on Russia to rethink support for Syrian government

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called on Russia to rethink its alliance with the government of Bashar al-Assad following an alleged chemical attack in northwestern Syria.

Tillerson made the remarks on Wednesday, a day after the suspected assault targeted the town of Khan Shaykhun in Idlib, leaving more than 70 people, including children, dead and dozens more injured.

The foreign-sponsored militants active in the area as well as US officials blamed the attack on the Syrian military whereas Damascus rejected the allegation, insisting it "has never used them [chemical weapons], anytime, anywhere, and will not do so in the future."

Tillerson told reporters that “there is no doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for this horrific attack.”

“And we think it’s time that the Russians really need to think carefully about their continued support of the Assad regime,” he added.

US President Donald Trump and King Abdullah II (left) of Jordan look on at the end of a press conference in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 5, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Earlier, US President Donald Trump indicated that the attack has made him rethink Washington’s policy on Syria.

“It crossed a lot of lines for me.” he said at a joint press conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the White House.

“It is very, very possible, and I will tell you it’s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” added Trump, who has claimed to be a critic of former President Barack Obama’s Syrian policy.

In response to Tillerson’s comments, Russia vowed to keep supporting the Syrian military in its fight against terrorism, and called for the formation of a fact-finding mission to probe the attack.

“The Russian Federation and its military are continuing…to support the anti-terrorism operation and liberation of the country, which is being conducted by the Syrian armed forces,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

A Syrian man receives treatment at a small hospital in the town of Maaret al-Noman following a suspected toxic gas attack in  Khan Shaykhun, a town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

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The United States and its allies have repeatedly used chemical weapons as a pretext to pressure the Syrian government. Damascus volunteered to destroy its chemical stockpile in 2014 following a poisonous attack outside the capital. 

The allegations of chemical arms use are still made against Syria even as the dismantling of the country's entire stockpile of chemical weapons as well as relevant production facilities was supervised by the UN.

Foreign-backed militants have repeatedly used chemical weapons against Syrian troops, some of which have been verified by UN officials, but the attacks have often been ignored by Western governments.

A Syrian soldier is treated at a hospital in a government-held area of Aleppo on October 30, 2016 following a militant chemical attack in the city. (Photos by AFP)

In December 2015, a cousin of former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi said that chemical weapons used in Ghouta which were blamed on the Syrian government were in fact stolen from Libya and later smuggled into Syria via Turkey.

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