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Syria 'gas attack': US threatens to take unilateral action if UN talks fail

A picture taken on April 4, 2017 shows destruction at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack. Photograph: (AFP)

AFP United Nations Headquarters, New York, NY, United States Apr 05, 2017, 07.49 PM (IST)

The United States said it would take unilateral action against Syria if the United Nations couldn't rein in the Syrian regime, a day after an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town left scores dead, including children.

The deadly attack in Idlib province in Syria has also changed US President Donald Trump's opinion about the Bashar al-Assad regime. Trump condemned the attack, saying it had crossed "many, many lines" by "killing innocent children".

The warnings by the US administration were made a day after at least 86 people, including 30 children, died due to the possible gas attacks, while several others were left gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth.

Speaking during the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called by France and Britain, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the US would act on its own if the United Nations failed to tackle the protracted conflict in Syria.

"When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action," Haley said.

She also urged Russia to use its influence to end the "horrific acts" in Syria.

"How many more children have to die before Russia cares? If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it," she said.

The US and the west have blamed Assad for overseeing the deadliest attack since 2013. They have also accused Russia and Iran of aiding Assad in the years-long civil war that has left around 320,000 people dead.

Both Syria and Russia have denied carrying out the attack, with Moscow suggesting that toxic agents were released after an air strike by the US coalition hit a rebel arsenal. 

'Terrible affront to humanity'

Trump's condemnation of the possible gas attack has also pivoted the administration's agenda in Syria.

Trump had previously spoken about how defeating Islamic State and not removal of Assad was seen as a priority by his administration.

The shift in stance was evidenced when White House press secretary Sean Spicer admitted that the US administration was now being driven by a new "reality", Independent reported.

Trump also assailed the Syrian regime by dubbing the attack as a "terrible affront to humanity". 

"That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me ... my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much," the 70-year-old president said.

France urges US to back Syria solution 

Britain, France and the United States have presented a draft resolution demanding a full investigation of the attack, but Russia said the text was "categorically unacceptable".

"If we are not prepared to act, then this council will keep meeting, month after month to express outrage at the continuing use of chemical weapons and it will not end," Haley said.

"We will see more conflict in Syria. We will see more pictures that we can never unsee."

French Ambassador Francois Delattre called on Russia to ratchet up pressure on Assad but also had a message for the Trump administration.

"Frankly we also need an American that is seriously committed to a solution in Syria and puts all its weight behind it. If not now, when?" Delattre told reporters.

The draft resolution backs a probe by the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and demands that Syria cooperate to provide information on its military operations on the day of the assault.

Russia's Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told the council that the proposed resolution was hastily prepared and unnecessary, but voiced support for an inquiry.

"The main task now is to have an objective inquiry into what happened," he said. 

Negotiations were continuing on the draft text, but diplomats said they hoped it could be put to a vote later on Wednesday.

(WION with inputs from AFP)

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