A suspected chemical-weapons attack in Douma, a rebel-controlled town in Eastern Ghouta, has killed dozens of people, an aid group said, blaming Syria’s Assad regime for the assault on the suburb of Damascus.
The Syrian regime dismissed the claim made by the aid group, the White Helmets, calling it a “fabrication” by Jaish al-Islam, the Islamist group that controls the town. Russia, which supports the Assad regime in the seven-year-long civil war, also rejected the claim. The U.S. State Department in a statement said it was following the reports on Saturday’s attack, adding that Russia “ultimately bears responsibility” for the attack and its consequences. But perhaps the strongest words of criticism over the attack came from President Trump:
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
....to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018
The remarks on Twitter are not only the strongest condemnation so far of the attack on Douma. They are also perhaps one of the only times Trump, who has been accused of failing to explicitly condemn Russia and its president’s actions in the U.S. presidential elections and elsewhere, has directly criticized Vladimir Putin. It was Putin’s intervention in the Syrian civil war in October 2015 that decisively shifted the conflict in Bashar al-Assad’s favor. (Iran, who Trump also blamed in his tweet, is another of Assad’s supporters, but has been absent from the strikes on Eastern Ghouta.)
The last time Trump was incensed by a chemical-weapons attack in Syria was in April 2017 when he ordered military strikes against Assad’s facilities. At the time, Trump had seemed particularly affected by the images of children suffering as a result of Assad’s attack, telling reporters: “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal—people were shocked to hear what gas it was. That crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line, many, many lines.”