The Trump Administration Just Warned Syria Not to Use Chemical Weapons

"The Assad regime and ISIS continue to use chemical weapons", one senior official said.

The officials weren't authorized to speak on the record and briefed reporters on condition of anonymity. "Groups on the ground, NGOs, fighters have said" that the regime has used sarin gas in recent attacks, he said, but "we do not have evidence".

The officials said that recent attacks carried out by the regime have demonstrated "classic" symptoms of sarin use, such as pinpoint pupils in the victims, indicating that it's "highly likely" that Syria has kept a stockpile of weapons - attacks that "suggest" that Syria is continuing to produce chemical weapons, despite a 2013 deal brokered in large part by Russian Federation to declare its weapons and destroy its program.

A war monitor said at least 20 civilians were killed in Syrian government air strikes on rebel-held territory in the country's north on Thursday and three children were killed in artillery strikes on Eastern Ghouta.

In a recently released annual report, the White Helmets said that as many as 1,337 civilians had been killed in Eastern Ghouta last year amid ongoing regime attacks.Home to some 400,000 residents, Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for five years, and humanitarian access to the city has been completely cut off. Hundreds are in urgent need of medical attention. In the past two years, a joint United Nations and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inquiry found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin and several times used chlorine as a weapon.

But with Russian and Iranian influence growing in Syria and posing a direct threat to United States foreign policy interests, it's possible that the Trump administration may look to make a statement that it's not buying Russia's excuses anymore.

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"We think that they didn't carry out what they said they'd do" in terms of destroying chemical weapons stores and production capabilities, Mattis added, confirming remarks earlier this week by State Department officials.

The reports could not be independently verified.

State news agency SANA said seven people died in apparent retaliatory shelling of nearby government-held Damascus. Notably, the district falls within a network of de-escalation zones endorsed by Turkey, Russia and Iran, in which acts of aggression are expressly forbidden.

"We are getting nowhere at the moment", Egeland said Thursday in Geneva.

Syria's main opposition coalition and Kurdish groups boycotted the congress held this week, just days after a ninth round of UN-led talks in Vienna failed to yield progress.

Information for this article was contributed by Josh Lederman, Zeina Karam, Philip Issa and Sarah El Deeb of The Associated Press and by Kambiz Foroohar and Justin Sink of Bloomberg News.

  • Megan Austin