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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Sunday, August 20, 2017

The United States has detected potential preparations for a chemical attack at the Syrian Shayrat airfield, which was used in April to launch a chemical attack that killed more than 100 people in Khan Sheikhoun.

In an ominous statement issued, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. had "identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children."

He said the activities were similar to preparations taken before an April 2017 attack that killed dozens of men, women and children, and warned that if "Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price."

The White House offered no details on what prompted the warning and spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said she had no additional information Monday night.

There was no specific information or evidence presented about the alleged preparations.

A non-governmental source with close ties to the White House told the AP that the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east or south of the country, where government troops and their proxies have faced recent setbacks.

Syrian officials denied the allegations. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley wrote on Twitter that any further attacks against Syrian civilians "will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people."

Russia and Iran are Assad's main backers, and have provided military support in the complex fight against both rebels and Islamic State militants.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday threats against the Syrian leadership are "unacceptable," and that he did not know of any information about a threat for a chemical attack.

Analysis by the French government found that sarin gas was used along with a stabilizer known as hexamine, and that the same manufacturing process was used for a 2013 chemical attack attributed to the Syrian government.

A U.N. investigation found credible evidence that sarin was indeed used in August 2013 attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that killed hundreds of civilians. In most alleged chemical weapons attacks since then, the agent thought to be used most often has been chlorine.

Rebel groups have also been accused in the past of using chlorine in rocket attacks, and the Islamic State terror group has been blamed for a mustard gas attack in Syria.

After the April 4th attack, The Idlib Media Center, an organization of pro-opposition activists and rescue workers known as the White Helmets posted video footage and still photographs of the aftermath of the airstrike on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

The footage appeared to show a young girl hooked up to a ventilator and the bodies of several children being covered with a blanket. In other videos, medics were seen trying to resuscitate a small girl and assisting adults struggling with breathing difficulties. One picture showed rescue workers placing the body of a man into the back of a truck.

People choked, vomited or fainted minutes after the attack, reported the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based monitoring group that gathers information from activists on the ground. The group said it had received initial reports of the attack from medics in the town.

In the middle of May it was reported that the Syrian government had carried out mass killings of thousands of prisoners and had their bodies incinerated in a crematorium to conceal the grisly evidence.

In efforts, at the time, to provide formidable evidence pointing to Syrian culpability, the State Department released newly declassified photographs showing what it alleged was a building at a large military prison outside the capital Damascus that has been modified to support a crematorium where thousands of bodies have been burnt.

Stuart Jones, acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, said US officials believe the crematorium could be used to dispose of bodies at a prison where they believe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Government authorized the mass hangings of thousands of inmates during Syria’s six-year-old civil war, according to report on the New Daily Australia web site.

Assad has rejected the suggestion that his forces were responsible for what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, saying the incident was a "fabrication" the United States used to justify a military strike against Syrian forces.

The U.S. strikes hit a Syrian airbase believed to be the source of the chemical weapons.

British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in an interview Tuesday with Sky News that his government would back another similar strike, and that he plans to discuss the situation with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a meeting Thursday in Brussels.

"We fully supported the last strike that took out the airplanes and the support that they required to drop chemical weapons, and if the United States is considering a similar strike, then we will support that, too," Fallon said.

Regional analyst Anthony Billingsley of the University of New South Wales told VOA he fears that with the recent shooting down of a Syrian jet and a Russian threat to treat planes from a U.S.-led coalition as hostile, another retaliatory strike could be "a much more serious danger."

"We’re now starting to add to the sort of militarization of this particular tension between governments, and that’s very worrying because these things can suddenly lose control and get out of hand," Billingsley said.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said Tuesday the activity involved specific aircraft in a specific hangar known to be associated with chemical weapons use.

Meanwhile, it was reported that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited a Russian air base at Hmeymim in western Syria on Tuesday, his first visit to the base from which Russian jets have supported his war effort.

Photos circulated showed the Syrian leader in the cockpit of a Russian Sukhoi SU-35 warplane, and inspecting an armored vehicle at the base near Latakia. He was accompanied by Russian chief of staff General Valery Gerasimov, state news agency SANA reported.

The base has been at the heart of Moscow's military effort in support of Assad since 2015, when the Russian air force began bombing insurgents who were threatening his grip on power. Assad has also been backed in the war by Iran.

Assad has been touring areas north of Damascus in recent days, a rare trip out of his seat of power in the capital. On Sunday he performed Eid prayers in the city of Hama, the first time he has visited the city since the start of the conflict.

State media also reported on Tuesday that Assad had visited wounded soldiers in the Hama countryside, accompanied by his wife Asma and children in footage screened by state media.

By: Fern Sidman