US President Donald Trump warned Russia on Wednesday that missiles “will be coming” in response to a suspected chemical attack in Syria.
Trump said two days ago there would be a “big price to pay” for the attack on the rebel-held town of Douma, which killed more than 40 people on Saturday.
On Wednesday, he ramped up his rhetoric, saying it was clear that both Russia and Iran shared responsibility for the attack and that missiles “nice and new and smart” could be coming.
He hit out at Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom he damned as a “gas killing animal.”
Moscow, in response, said that any US missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launch sites targeted, raising the threat of a US-Russian confrontation.
Russia said the US government should target “terrorists” and not “legitimate government” in Syria.
Meanwhile, Europe’s air traffic control agency warned airlines to exercise caution due to possible airstrikes on Syria. Some airlines were reported to be re-routing flights in the eastern Mediterranean because of the increasing threat of conflict and a repeat of the disaster over Ukraine in July 2014 when a Malaysian Airlines flight with nearly 300 passengers and crew on board was shot down by a missile.
The World Health Organization said today that around 500 people had been treated for “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals” after the suspected poison gas attack on the rebel enclave near Damascus.
WHO also said that more than 70 people sheltering from bombardment in basements in the former rebel pocket of eastern Ghouta, where Douma is located, were reported to have died. It said 43 of those deaths were “related to symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals,” citing reports from its local health partners.
“We should all be outraged at these horrific reports and images from Douma,” said Peter Salama, WHO’s deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday she regretted that the United Nations Security Council was unable to agree on joint language on the escalating conflict in Syria.
Earlier, the Kremlin said it hoped all sides involved in Syria would avoid doing anything that could destabilize an already fragile situation in the Middle East and made clear it was strongly opposed to a possible US strike on its ally.
A group of Russian lawmakers plans to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Interfax news agency reported citing a Russian lawmaker.
– with reporting by Reuters