A Syrian government official on Tuesday rejected the White House’s assertion that “potential” evidence showed that the regime of President Bashar Assad was preparing for a chemical weapons attack.
The denial came after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”
Spicer said the activities were similar to preparations taken before a chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held town in Idlib Province on April 4 that killed at least 89 people, including women and children. President Trump ordered strikes on a Syrian government air base in retaliation.
Spicer warned that if “Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”
The statement was issued Monday night with no supporting evidence or further explanation.
Ali Haidar, the Syrian minister for national reconciliation, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the White House statement foreshadowed a “diplomatic battle” that would be waged against Syria in the halls of the U.N.
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin — an ally of Assad — said Spicer’s remarks were “unacceptable.”
"I am not aware of any information about a threat that chemical weapons can be used," he told reporters Tuesday.
"Certainly, we consider such threats to the legitimate leadership of the Syrian Arab Republic unacceptable."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group, said Tuesday that an airstrike on a jail run by the Islamic State in eastern Syria on Monday killed at least 42 prisoners, as well as 15 militants from the extremist group.
Contributing: The Associated Press