US Defence Sec’y Mattis: Syria still has chemical weapons

US Defence Sec'y Mattis: Syria still has chemical weapons

TEL AVIV, Israel — Syria still possesses chemical weapons, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said in Israel on Friday, warning against the banned munitions being used again.

At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Mattis also said that in recent days the Syrian Air Force has dispersed its combat aircraft. The implication is that Syria may be concerned about additional U.S. strikes following the cruise missile attack earlier this month in retaliation for alleged Syrian use of sarin gas.

Mattis spoke alongside Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “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,” said Mattis. He said he didn’t want to elaborate on the amounts Syria has in order to avoid revealing sources of intelligence.

“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,” he said.

Israeli defence officials said this week that Syria still has up to three tons of chemical weapons in its possession. It was the first specific intelligence assessment of President Bashar Assad’s weapons capabilities since a deadly chemical attack earlier this month.

Lieberman also refused to go into detail but said “We have 100 per cent information that Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebels.”

Assad has strongly denied he was behind the attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s northern Idlib province, and has accused the opposition of trying to frame his government. Top Assad ally, Russia, has asserted a Syrian government airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons factory, causing the disaster.

In response to the April 4 attack, the United States fired 59 missiles at a Syrian air base it said was the launching pad for the attack.

Before meeting with Mattis in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that Israel is encouraged by the change of administrations in Washington.

“We sense a great change in the direction of American policy,” Netanyahu said. He referred to the U.S. cruise missile strike in Syria as an important example of the new administration’s “forthright deeds” against the use of chemical weapons.

The Syrian government has been locked in a six-year civil war against an array of opposition forces. The fighting has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced half of Syria’s population.

Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting, though it has carried out a number of airstrikes on suspected Iranian weapons shipments it believed were bound for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. Iran and Hezbollah, both bitter enemies of Israel, along with Russia have sent forces to support Assad.

Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal to avert U.S. strikes following a chemical weapons attack in opposition-held suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 that killed hundreds of people and sparked worldwide outrage.

Ahead of that disarmament, Assad’s government disclosed it had some 1,300 tons of chemical weapons, including sarin, VX nerve agent and mustard gas.

The entire stockpile was said to have been dismantled and shipped out under international supervision in 2014 and destroyed. But doubts began to emerge soon afterward that not all such armaments or production facilities were declared and destroyed. There also is evidence that the Islamic State group and other insurgents have acquired chemical weapons.

___

Associated Press writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this story.

Robert Burns, The Associated Press

Just Posted

Penticton Lakers curling team headed to high school provincials

Penticton Secondary School Lakers boys curling team will represent the zone at provincials

Premium electric rate for home-based businesses

After more than three decades, home businesses pay the same power rate as other Penticton residents

Penticton cyclist takes city to court over injuries

The man claims a depression in the road caused a crash, resulting in rib and facial fractures

Slayer adds Penticton to North American tour

Slayer adds the South Okanagan Events Centre as a stop on their last world tour

Tagger causes $30,000 damage

Penticton looking for help finding person responsible for graffiti

Tsunami warnings 101: Canada

Here are some things to know about tsunami alerts in Canada and how they work

Castlegar homicide victim identified

The victim was 38-year-old Jordan Workman of Castlegar, B.C.

B.C. Liberal leadership candidates get one last prime-time pitch

Leadership campaign to be decided in Feb. 3 vote

Team chaplain reflects on time with Silverbacks

Kenny Toews served as a mentor and spiritual leader to the team for six seasons

Drawings connect autistic student with the world

Leifen Mitchell-Banks creates colourful cartoon characters at Salmon Arm Secondary.

Andrew Scheer on trade, Trump and Trudeau

Canada’s Conservative leader begins three-day visit to B.C.

10 Safeways in Lower Mainland to close, union says

Locations in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Coquitlam, Richmond and Mission slated to shut

Victims restrained, sex toys and cash stolen from B.C. adult store

Armed suspects sought in adult store robbery

‘Miraculous that nobody was killed’

Tanker full of aviation fuel involved in Highway 3 crash

Most Read