Syria puts forces ‘on alert’ amid threat of US military action

Al Jazeera News:  

The Syrian government has put its forces on “high alert” amid the looming threat of a US military response following Saturday’s suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus.

US President Donald Trump has described the apparent chlorine barrel bomb attack on Douma as “atrocious” and pledged to respond “forcefully”.

Syria’s government and its ally Russia have denied the chemical attack took place, but rescuers and medics said that dozens of people, including many women and children, were killed.

Trump met both his cabinet and top generals on Monday and promised “major decisions over the next 24 to 48 hours,” in response to the attack.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump would not travel to Latin America, as planned, and would instead remain in the US to “oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world”.

Meanwhile, James Mattis, US defence secretary, did not rule out any military action against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The DPA news agency reported on Tuesday that the Syrian army had put all military positions on alert, including airports and all bases, for 72 hours.

It said the alert included all army positions and bases in the southern province of Sweida, Aleppo province, Latakia and Deir Az Zor province.

Separately, the pro-government Al Masdar news website reported that the Russian Navy’s Black Sea fleet had also been placed on high alert after a US warship reportedly left Cyprus for Syrian waters.

There was no official response from Russia on the announcement.

But the news comes as at least one US guided-missile destroyer set off for the coast of Syria after Trump stated the possibility of a military response.

Vladimir Shamanov, a former commander-in-chief of the Russian Airborne Troops, vowed that Russia would take all political, diplomatic and military retaliatory measures if the US carried out any attacks in Syria.

“The politics of double standards have hit rock bottom. And here, the United Russia party conscientiously states that all political, diplomatic and military measures if necessary will be taken,” Shamanov told a plenary meeting of the State Duma.

Similarly, the Russian foreign ministry warned against “military intervention under far-fetched and fabricated pretexts”.