Russia will face repercussions if Assad responsible for gas attack - PM


Russia must be "held to account" alongside Syria if Bashar Assad's regime is found to be responsible for the poison gas attack in Douma, Theresa May has warned.

Branding the atrocity "horrific" and "absolutely appalling", the Prime Minister said international allies were working "urgently" on investigating the assault on the Syrian rebel-held town.

An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council is being held on Monday in response and US president Donald Trump has warned there will be a "big price to pay".

Maps alleged poison gas attack in Syria
Maps alleged poison gas attack in Syria

At least 40 people are reported to have died and if it is confirmed chemical weapons have been used by the regime it risks further escalating the crisis in the region.

Mrs May warned Russia, a supporter of the Syrian government, that it will face repercussions as well as Assad.

At a press conference during a visit to Denmark, she said: "If they are found to be responsible, the regime and its backers, including Russia, must be held to account."

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She added: "What we are urgently doing with our allies is assessing what has taken place.

"Obviously, if this is a chemical weapons attack of the sort the initial reports suggest that it is, this is another example of the Assad regime's brutality and the brazen way in which they have ignored the interests of their people.

"I think this is a reprehensible attack that has taken place."

She added: "This is horrific, the pictures of what has happened there. It is an absolutely appalling attack and if this is at the hands of the Assad regime, it is yet another example of the brutality of that regime and the way in which they have treated their own people."

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The PM said the attack in Douma was part of a "troubling wider pattern of acts of aggression" and abuse of international norms on the use of chemical weapons.

Russia's repeated use of its veto at the UN has "enabled" international rules on chemical weapons attacks to be broken and investigations hampered, the premier said.

"This must stop," she added.

Mrs May said the case of the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury showed "similar recklessness last month with the use of chemical weapons" on the streets of Salisbury.

"The UK's case for holding Russia responsible for the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal is clear," she added.

"No other country has a combination of the capability, the intent and the motive to carry out such an act."

Mrs May, who was in Copenhagen for talks with prime minister Lars Rasmussen, said they had agreed to do more to deal with the "growing challenge" from Russia to international security.

Increasingly hostile Russian actions pose a threat on a number of fronts, including cyber espionage, she said.

Mr Rasmussen told reporters Denmark "stands united" with the UK in its response to the Salisbury attack.

"This was a clear violation of international law and order and we are extremely concerned about the incident," he added.

The attack in Douma occurred late on Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce with the Army of Islam rebel group.

Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said poison gas was used on the rebel-held town near the capital - an allegation strongly denied by the Assad government.

Families were reportedly found suffocated in their homes and shelters, with foam on their mouths.

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Reports suggested more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were brought to medical centres with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth, and burning sensations in the eyes.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in February that Britain should consider joining military action against Assad's regime if there is fresh "incontrovertible" evidence he has used chemical weapons against his own people.

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...

-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018

After intense diplomatic activity on Sunday, the US, UK and France were among countries that called for the emergency UN meeting.

President Trump branded Assad an "animal" in a series of posts on Twitter.

He said: "President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay."

The attack comes almost exactly a year after a chemical atrocity in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people.

That attack prompted the US to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.

Russia and Syria have blamed Israel for an attack on a Syrian military airport on Monday that reportedly killed at least 14 people.

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