The US is still weighing its options as it considers a military response to an alleged chemical attack by the Syrian government outside Damascus. Meanwhile, Russia hopes the conflict doesn't reach a "point of no return."
No decision was made Thursday regarding a response from the United States to a suspected chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government in Douma on Saturday.
"We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies," White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Thursday.
US President Donald Trump also backed off his Twitter claim on Wednesday that missiles "will be coming," saying a military response "could be very soon or not soon at all."
Trump met with members of his National Security Council on Thursday to discuss the US's options with regards to Syria. Sanders said the US president spoke to British Prime Minister Theresa May and would speak to French President Emmanuel Macron as well.
Trump and May agreed "on the need to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime," May's office said without providing details on what steps might be taken.
Macron said France had proof the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out the chemical weapons attack, adding that his government will not tolerate "regimes that think everything is permitted."
May has received the backing of her senior ministers to "take action" to deter further chemical weapons use by Assad, a spokesperson said in a statement, but added that the British prime minister will consult with allies to coordinate an international response.
Russia, a Syrian military ally, has called for restraint, saying there was no evidence that the Syrian government used a banned chemical agent in Douma.
Indecision at the United Nations
After an emergency closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday, Russia's UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, urged the United States and its allies to refrain from military retaliation in Syria.
"We hope that there will be no point of no return — that the US and their allies will refrain from military action against a sovereign state," said Nebenzia outside UN headquarters on Thursday. He added that he "cannot exclude" war between the United States and Russia and that "the danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria."
Russia has called another meeting of the 15-member Security Council on Friday. Meanwhile, Sweden has proposed asking the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, to suggest an impartial mechanism to assign blame for the chemical attack in Syria.
Inspectors on the way
A team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was en route to Syria on Thursday to begin investigating the incident. The Netherlands-based agency said they will start their fact-finding mission on Saturday.
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The suspected chemical attack in Douma, a rebel stronghold outside of the Syrian capital of Damascus, on April 7 killed 43 people, according to the White Helmets rescue organization. The World Health Organization said 500 patients showed signs of suffering from a chemical attack.
The imminent arrival of the international chemical watchdog comes as rebels in Douma surrendered their weapons and left the town. Russia said Thursday it has deployed military police in Douma and the town is now the under full control of the Syrian government.
dv/sms (AP, dpa, Reuters)