NOTE: If you’re a “ChemTruther”… if you disagree with Amnesty International, the OPCW, WHO, MSF, the UN (breakdown), and all public evidence about past attacks, and are here to do the same about the most recent one… leave. You’re not welcome here, any more than a 9/11 Truther would be welcome in a liveblog about 9/11.
That said, on with the news.
For those who missed last night’s news, click here.
Last night, fighters from the Arab Coalition landed at the British airbase in Akrotiri, Cypris, along with additional RAF jets. The evidence continues to mount that there is preparation being made for more than just a missile strike, although there will be no saying for sure until after the fact.
Douma is fallen. The reason that chemical weapons get used against cities where people are bunkered down underground is because they work. There’s now a race on to smuggle the bodies out before Assad’s forces get ahold of them.
The German tabloid Bild claims that both the USS Donald Cook and the Russian ship Admiral Grigorovich moved away from Syria last night; the Cook is now between Crete and Cyprus. The Cook, a guided missile destroyer used during the previous assault on the Shayrat airbase, was subject to a recent false report that it was lurking just off the Syrian coast and had been buzzed by Russian jets (this actually happened to a French vessel).
Reports are coming in that Russia has resumed bombing Syria.
The Duma is advising Russian citizens to avoid travel to Syria due to the threat of US bombing.
Despite all the rhetoric, Russia is reportedly in deconfliction talks with the US at the moment, to ensure that they get enough advanced warning to keep their troops from being hit by coalition forces. If this plays out like last time, the warning time would be under 90 minutes (in order to address “pounding sand” conspiracy theories related to the deconfliction line: read).
While the UK and France have so far seemed quite ready to participate, there have been no signs that Germany will — but don’t exactly expect condemnation either. Deutsche Welle reports that German Transatlantic Coordinator Peter Beyer argued that although military action should be a last resort, the attack in Douma “needs an answer”.
Turkey’s foreign minister again calls for punishment against Assad for the attack in Douma, although it’s still not certain that Turkey would directly play a role.
After having stated yesterday , Theresa May is now meeting with her cabinet.
Ministers are expected to back her call to join military action threatened by the United States and its allies.
Sources say the PM is prepared to take action against the Assad regime without first seeking Parliamentary consent.
BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said Mrs May appeared to have made up her mind and that it was “a question of when, not if” there will be military action.
Someone check up on Trump, he’s tweeting again.
Updates will follow after the break.
7:35 EST: Macron, invoking similar language to Sarah Huckabee-Sanders last night, stated that their response will be at the time of their choosing, and no decisions have been made. “We will need to take decisions in due course, when we judge it most useful and effective” In a phone call with Macron, Merkel told him that she “was concerned the international community’s ability to enforce a ban on the use of chemical weapons was eroding.”
9:30 EST: Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO: “NATO considers the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security. Those responsible must be held accountable. We must protect the ban on the use of chemical weapons”
Deusche-Welle reporter Michaela Kuefner, covering Merkel: “Closest yet to endorsing #Syria strikes: #Merkel says #Germany “understands and supports” that “everything” done to demonstrate #ChemicalWeapons use in #Syria not acceptable. Germany “not part” of any military action.”
11:15 EST: According to the Syrian government (not yet confirmed by the OPCW), the first batch of inspectors will be arriving today, and the second tomorrow.
11:40 EST: From VOA White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman: Gen. Mattis promised to congress to inform them before any attack against Syria is launched. He stressed that the US is trying to keep the situation from getting “out of control” while American military action is being considered.
As expected, Italy has officially confirmed that they will not be taking part in any direct military action against Syria, but will provide logistical support to its allies.
11:55 EST: More from Mattis:
Defense Secretary James Mattis said Thursday that although the U.S. strategy in Syria is to defeat ISIS and “not engage in the civil war itself,” some things, like the use of chemical weapons, are “simply inexcusable beyond the pale” and “in the worst interest… of civilization itself.”
“You saw President Obama try to deal with those chemical weapons when he was in and enlisting the Russians who now it shows were complicit in Syria retaining those weapons, Assad retaining them – and the only reason Assad is still in power is because of the Russians regrettable vetoes in the UN and the Russian and Iranian military,”
But asked what is the best approach to deal with the conflict in Syria, Mattis said the U.S. remains committed to “ending that war through the Geneva process, the UN orchestrated effort.”
He stated that he has never seen “refugees as traumatized as coming out of Syria. It’s got to end and our strategy remains the same as a year ago, to drive this to a UN-brokered peace, but at the same time keep our foot on the neck of ISIS until we suffocate it.”
If only his boss had that level of sympathy to refugees coming out of Syria…
12:15 EST: Sweden has proposed a resolution at the UN to create a high-level disarmament mission to resolve the chemical weapons issue “once and for all”.
12:20 EST: Trump pulling his usual “We’ll see what happens, folks” schtick when asked what he plans to do in Syria. This time he added that it’s “really bad that the world puts us in a position like that”.
13:00 EST: While it’s not a shock, Pompeo has confirmed that the US killed several hundred Wagner PMC (Russian) mercenaries earlier in the year while stopping one of several attempts by the Assad-controlled enclave on the eastern side of the Euphrates near Deir-ez-Zour to take the Jafra oilfield from the SDF.
Also, the OPCW has confirmed that it has teams en route to Syria, but they will not be ready to start their work before Saturday.
13:25 EST: The US now has blood and urine samples from victims of the attack. Preliminary testing shows indications of exposure to both chlorine and an unnamed nerve agent; the officials discussing the results were “confident” but not “100% sure” concerning findings. The US and its allies have also compiled other intelligence, including imagery of the attack.
This report is very preliminary and I expect some details to be in error. Chlorine toxicity is not determined by blood or urine samples, but by examination for chemical burns, free chlorine, and other methods. But this would be done at the same time as sample collection.
13:30 EST: It’s now 8:30 in Damascus. The sun set an hour and a half ago, and now even astronomical twilight has ended. It is nighttime.
15:00 EST: The White House has reportedly narrowed down the list to 8 targets, including two airfields, a research facility, and a chemical weapons facility.
I would expect that one of those airbases would be the Dumayr airbase, where the Mi-8 Hip helicopters which dropped the munitions came from.
ED: New liveblog up.