Israel blamed for missile strike; 14 reported killed

BEIRUT (AP) — International condemnation grew over a suspected poison gas attack in a rebel-held town near Damascus said to have been carried out by the Syrian government, while Syria and its main ally, Russia, blamed Israel for airstrikes on a Syrian air base Monday that reportedly killed 14 people, including four Iranians.

The timing of the airstrikes in central Homs province, hours after President Donald Trump said there would be “a big price to pay” for the chemical weapons attack, raised questions about whether Israel was acting alone or as a proxy for the United States.

Israel did not comment on Monday’s missile strike. The Jewish State typically does not comment on its airstrikes in Syria, which have been numerous in Syria’s civil war.

The fast-paced developments threatened to further hike tensions between the U.S. and Russia, which has in the past warned against any U.S. military action against President Bashar Assad’s government. Iran, a key ally of Assad, condemned the airstrikes, which it said killed four Iranians, including a colonel and a member of the Revolutionary Guard’s aerospace force.

Opposition activists said 40 people died in Saturday night’s chemical attack in the town of Douma, the last remaining rebel bastion in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, blaming Assad’s forces. The attack killed entire families in their homes and underground shelters, opposition activists and local rescuers said.

The Syrian government strongly denied it carried out a chemical weapons attack and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it has opened an investigation. In a statement, it said a fact-finding mission was gathering information from all available sources to establish whether chemical weapons were used.

Trump on Monday condemned the “heinous attack” in Syria and said he would make a decision on a U.S. response “probably by the end of today” after huddling with military advisers. “Nothing is off the table,” Trump warned.

“If it’s Russia, if it’s Syria, if it’s Iran, if it’s all of them together, we’ll figure it out,” he said. Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added: “Everybody’s going to pay a price — he will, everybody will.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said Assad’s government and its backers, including Russia, “must be held to account” if it is found to have been responsible for the suspected poison gas attack. “Yes, this is about the actions, the brutal actions by Assad and his regime. But it also is about the backers of the regime, and of course Russia is one of those backers. … And they need to look very carefully at the position they have taken,” she said.

The European Union also laid the blame squarely on Assad’s government.

The U.N. Security Council planned to hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the chemical attack.

It was the second such airstrike this year on the Syrian air base, known as T4, where Iranian fighters are believed to be stationed.