ASSAD WARNED: White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Donald Trump will respond if Syria launches chemical attacks.
ASSAD WARNED: White House press secretary Sean Spicer says Donald Trump will respond if Syria launches chemical attacks. Andrew Harnik

US warns Syria on any future gas attacks

BASHAR al-Assad's Syrian government "would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons,” US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said.

In a statement addressing last week's cruise missile strike on Sharyat airfield, General Mattis called it a "measured response to the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons”.

The strike damaged or destroyed a fifth of Syria's operation aircraft, he claimed.

"The President directed this action to deter future use of chemical weapons and to show the United States will not passively stand by while Assad murders innocent people with chemical weapons, which are prohibited by international law and which were declared destroyed, Gen Mattis said.

"The Syrian government would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons.”

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said such attacks were unacceptable.

"If you gas a baby or drop a barrel bomb on to innocent people, you will see a response from this president,” he said.

A senior US official told the Associated Press the US had concluded Russia knew in advance of Syria's plans for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun.

Gen Mattis's strong rhetoric came just days after Russia and Iran warned the US they would "respond with force” if their own "red lines” were crossed in Syria.

"What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is and America knows our ability to respond well,” the joint command centre for powers allied with Mr Assad said.

Gen Mattis added: "The assessment of the Department of Defence is that that strike resulted in the damage or destruction of fuel and ammunition sites, air defence capabilities, and 20% of Syria's operational aircraft.

"The Syrian government has lost the ability to refuel or rearm aircraft at Sharyat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest.”

After the chemical attack, Damascus claimed it had destroyed its toxic stockpiles following an international agreement struck in 2013.

The Russian defence ministry claimed legitimate Syrian air strikes against "terrorists” had struck a warehouse used to produce and store shells containing toxic gas.

Mr Putin and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani have called for an objective investigation into the chemical attack.

President Rouhani has urged Syria to strike back at the US over the missile attack on Sharyat airfield.

"The Syrian people and army must give a response that makes Americans regret their attack,” he said.