US defense secretary says Syria dispersed warplanes, retains chemical weapons


Reuters

UPDATE 6-US defense secretary says Syria dispersed warplanes, retains chemical weapons


(Adds Syrian government comment)
    By Idrees AliTEL AVIV, April 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Jim
Mattis said on Friday that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in
recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he
said would have to be taken up diplomatically.
    The United States launched dozens of missiles earlier this
month against a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack
that killed 90 people, including 30 children. It says the Syrian
government launched the attack from the Shayrat air
base.[nL8N1HG0KM]
    The Pentagon has said that the strike had damaged or
destroyed about 20 percent of the Syrian military's operational
aircraft.[nL1N1HI16S]
    During a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart,
Mattis was asked whether the Syrian military had moved warplanes
to a Russian base in Latakia.
    "They have dispersed their aircraft, no doubt. They have
dispersed their aircraft in recent days," Mattis said.
    Mattis also reiterated that the United States believed Syria
had retained some chemical weapons.
    "The bottom line is, I can say authoritatively they have
retained some (chemical weapons). It's a violation of the United
Nations Security Council resolutions, and it's going to have to
be taken up diplomatically," Mattis said.
    Israel's military said on Wednesday it believed Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad's forces still possessed several
tonnes of chemical weapons.[nL8N1HR669]
    In a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United
States, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons.

    SYRIAN DENIAL
    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, a
global watchdog, said sarin or a similar banned toxin was used
in the April 4 strike in Syria's Idlib province.
    The Syrian government has denied it has any chemical weapons
or that it was responsible for the April 4 attack.
 "We think it was fabricated…To us, there was no chemical attack
and no chemical depot. It was a fabricated play to justify the
attack on the Shayrat air base," Assad told Sputnik and RIA on
Thursday.
    Mattis also met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in
Jerusalem. Before the start of their talks, Netanyahu said he
was optimistic about relations between the two countries under
the new U.S. administration.
    The two countries are working to set a more positive tone
after eight years of friction under President Donald Trump's
Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.
    Later on Friday, air raid sirens sounded in the
Israeli-controlled Golan Heights when two mortars fired from the
Syrian side of the frontier struck an open area, causing no
damage or injuries, Israel's military said.
    In response, the military said it "targeted the launch
sites" in Syria.
    Though Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of Syria's
civil war, there has been frequent spillover of rocket fire, and
Israel has occasionally carried out air strikes or returned
mortar fire if there is a specific threat.
    Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau, in a
1967 Middle East war.

 (Reporting by Idrees Ali; additional reporting  by Ellen
Francis in Beirut; editing by Ralph Boulton)
 ((ari.rabinovitch@thomsonreuters.com;  +972-2-632-2202; Reuters
Messaging: ari.rabinovitch@thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: USA MATTIS/ISRAEL (UPDATE 6)



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