U.S. media are reporting that the United States has launched airstrikes on Syria in the wake of a chemical weapons attack blamed on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces killed about 100 civilians.
According to those reports, 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from U.S. Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean.
Flying to his talks in Florida with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump told reporters that what happened in Syria was “a disgrace to humanity,” and that with Assad “running things … something should happen.”
“What Assad did is terrible. I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes, and it shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen,” he said.
Trump added that he might “at some point” talk about Syria with its biggest military ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Last week, the White House backed away from the former Obama administration’s stance that Assad must be removed.
Tillerson: Assad must go
While Trump did not say whether he now thought, in the wake of the gas attack, Assad should be driven from power, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday that Assad had to go. Tillerson told reporters there was “no role for him to govern the Syrian people” in the future.
“The process by which Assad would leave is something that requires an international community effort, both to first defeat ISIS [Islamic State extremists] within Syria, to stabilize the Syrian country to avoid further civil war, and then to work collectively with our partners around the world through a political process that would lead to Assad leaving,” he said.
U.S. officials said this week that there was no doubt the Syrian military was behind the apparent sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which also sickened 350.
Television pictures showed horrifying scenes — men, women and children foaming at the mouth, convulsing uncontrollably and struggling to breathe. Some families, including babies, died in their beds.
Doctors showed that the pupils of the victims’ eyes were tiny pinpoints that did not react to light — a clear sign of sarin gas poisoning.
Alleged warehouse strike
U.S. officials rejected Russian and Syrian claims that the gas had come from a missile strike on a rebel-controlled warehouse where chemical weapons had been stockpiled.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said his country did not use chemical weapons during airstrikes on Khan Sheikhoun. He insisted they would never be used, “even against terrorists.”
But Dr. Annie Sparrow, a public health specialist and a critical-care pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who has carried out many studies on Syria, said a “chemical cocktail” was used on the town. She gave this chilling assessment to the VOA Turkish service:
“It’s quite possible that Assad and Putin are using this … as a kind of experiment to test out new combinations of lethal chemical weapons.”
She said there was no way the Syrian rebels could have been responsible for the attack.
“Of course Russia and the Assad regime will deny this, because they know they are war crimes in the same way they deny attacks on hospitals and targeting civilians,” Sparrow said. “So they’re not going to fess up because they are war criminals conducting war crimes.”
The Kremlin said Putin, in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “underlined that it’s unacceptable to make unfounded accusations against anyone until a thorough and unbiased international investigation” has been conducted. But a Putin spokesman also said that Russia’s support for Assad was not unconditional.
Jordanian King Abdullah, meeting with Trump at the White House on Wednesday, said, “This is another testament to the failure of international diplomacy to find solutions to this crisis.”
Britain, France and the United States strongly condemned Russia on Wednesday during an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.
The fate of a draft U.N. resolution condemning the attack written by the three Western powers remained in limbo, as Russia’s envoy said at the emergency session he did not think the time was right for such action.
VOA’s Carla Babb and Mehmet Sumer contributed to this report.