“President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!”
Trump and Pompeo’s warnings come as US officials grow worried that an assault on Idlib could involve the use of chemical weapons if the rebels are able to slow regime advances.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has moved armed helicopters closer to Idlib in recent weeks, according to two defense officials. The US is concerned they could eventually be used to launch another chemical attack as well as a conventional assault.
The day before Pompeo’s warning, Lavrov told Western nations not to “play with fire” over Idlib and claimed the White Helmets, a group of unarmed volunteer rescue workers, were preparing to stage a chemical strike to blame on the Syrian government as a pretext for military action.
The Pentagon responded Friday, saying, “Russia has recently launched a concentrated disinformation campaign to discredit the United States and international partners and allies” and calling Lavrov’s allegation about preparations for a staged chemical strike “absurd.”
So far, a decision to take action has not been made, but one administration official with direct knowledge of the situation told CNN the military “could respond very quickly” if Syria launched a chemical weapons attack.