White House sees 'potential preparations' for chemical weapons attack

The White House announced late Monday that Syria may be planning another chemical weapons attack that "will likely result in the mass murder of civilians".

Assad, backed by his ally Russian Federation, has strongly denied the allegation that his forces used chemical weapons against the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun, describing it as a "100 percent fabrication".

New York Times White House correspondent Michael D. Shear tweeted that several military officials were "caught off guard" by the statement.

In an ominous statement, issued with no supporting evidence or further explanation, press secretary Sean Spicer said the United States "has identified potential preparations" for another chemical attack by Bashar Assad's government that "would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children".

In that attack, which the Syrian government denied involvement, killed more than 80 civilians, including many children.

The White House on Monday said U.S. intelligence observed potential preparations similar to those ahead of a deadly chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April that the USA blamed on Assad's forces.

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Australia is part of the coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in Iraq. Navy F/A-18 warplane shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 that had dropped bombs near Syrian opposition forces.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on potential US plans or the intelligence that prompted the statement about Syria's preparations for an attack.

In retaliation, Donald Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airbase and called on other nations to join in to help "end the slaughter and bloodshed".

Neither Washington, which backs the opposition, nor Moscow, a longtime ally of the Syrian government, have managed to find a solution to the conflict.

It said: "The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4 chemical weapons attack". At the time of the April strike, USA officials called the intervention a "one-off" meant to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the US role in the Syrian war.

"It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons", Trump said afterwards, justifying his use of force against Syria.

Last week, a U.S. military jet shot down a Syrian warplane that dropped bombs near US-backed fighters in Tabqa, northern Syria.

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