Mattis warns Syria still violating chemical weapons agreement

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Speaking alongside Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Israel on Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis warned that Syria still has chemical weapons which they could use again.

According to Mattis, “There can be no doubt in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all.”

Without revealing intelligence sources, Mattis said, “I can say, authoritatively, they have retained some. It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically … and they would be ill-advised to try to use any again. We made that very clear with our strike.”

According to Israeli defense officials, who conducted the first specific intelligence assessment of President Bashar al-Assad’s weapons capabilities since the deadly attack on Syrians earlier this month, Syria continues to stockpile up to three tons of chemical weapons.

Lieberman noted, “We have 100 percent information that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebels.”

Claiming that he was framed by opposition forces, Assad has vehemently denied that he masterminded the attack, which struck the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s northern Idlib province. Assad’s top ally, Russia, has explained that a Syrian government airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons factory, which actually caused the disaster.

The United States reacted to the attack by firing 59 missiles at a Syrian air base which had been identified as the launching pad for the attack.

Prior to meeting with Mattis in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that Israel approves of the way President Trump is now handling U.S. foreign affairs. “We sense a great change in the direction of American policy,” he said, calling the U.S. cruise missile strike in Syria an example of the new administration’s “forthright deeds” against the use of chemical weapons.

Civil war has been raging in Syria during the past six years, killing an estimated 400,000 people and displacing half of the country’s population.

Israel carried out several airstrikes on suspected Iranian weapons shipments that were headed for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah but has not gotten involved in the fighting. Along with Russia, Iran and Hezbollah have been supporting Assad.

After a chemical weapons attack in Damascus in 2013 killed hundreds of Syrians, Assad agreed to give up his arsenal of 1,300 tons of chemical weapons, including sarin and VX nerve agents and mustard gas, in order to avert U.S. strikes by the Obama administration.

In 2014, the entire stockpile was supposed to have been dismantled and shipped out under international supervision and destroyed. But, since the attack in April, it now looks like that didn’t happen. Evidence shows that ISIS and other insurgents now possess chemical weapons, as well.

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