The Citizen (KZN)

Syria top of mind as G7 backs US

‘NEVER USE CHEMICAL WEAPONS AGAIN’ UK, Germany side with Trump in importance of holding Assad accountabl­e.

- Lucca

Syria was set to dominate yesterday’s meeting of G7 foreign ministers in Italy, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson under the spotlight before he heads to Moscow, the key ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

Washington has warned Damascus that further use of chemical weapons could bring fresh US military retaliatio­n, following missile strikes against a Syrian air field. The US on Friday fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base near Homs, which the Pentagon said Assad’s jets had used to launch a deadly chemical attack on rebel-held Idlib province that killed at least 87 civilians.

Washington’s missile strike was the first time it had intervened directly against the regime of Assad, who is fighting a civil war with the backing of Russia and Iran.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, host of the Group of Seven talks in Lucca, was to convene a special meeting on Syria yesterday, which will also include Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar.

Italian media said the aim was “to avert a dangerous military escalation”. Alfano has already spoken to his Iranian counterpar­t, asking him to use his influence on the Syrian regime to avoid attacks on civilians.

The G7 ministers said on Monday they aimed to send a “clear and coordinate­d message” to Moscow, where Tillerson is due to hold talks with his Russian counterpar­t, Sergei Lavrov.

At the outset of the gathering, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described Assad as “toxic” and said it was “time for Russian President Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up”.

Washington on Monday again warned Assad’s regime not to carry out any more chemical attacks as it said the missile strike had destroyed a fifth of the Damascus regime’s remaining warplanes.

“The US will not passively stand by while Assad murders innocent people with chemical weapons, which are prohibited by internatio­nal law and which were declared destroyed,” Pentagon chief James Mattis said. “The Syrian government would be ill-advised ever again to use chemical weapons.”

US President Donald Trump discussed Syria in telephone calls on Monday with British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

They “expressed support for the US’s action and agreed with Trump on the importance of holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountabl­e”, the White House said.

Downing Street said Trump and May had agreed a window of opportunit­y now exists in which to persuade Russia that its alliance with Assad is no longer in its strategic interest. – AFP

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