Trump says missiles 'will be coming' to Syria, taunts Russia for vowing to block them

President Trump on Wednesday warned that missiles “will be coming” toward Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack and taunted Russia for vowing to shoot down any incoming strikes.

“Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” the president wrote on Twitter, referring to missile strikes. He also condemned Russia’s backing of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” Trump wrote.

Earlier this week, Trump said his administration was working on a response to the suspected chemical attack on Saturday, including military options.

The United States has been building a circumstantial case, based largely on videos and photographs, that a chemical attack by Syrian forces took place in the rebel-held enclave of Douma.

Moscow bureau chief Anton Troianovski describes Russia’s increasing tensions with the U.S. and how state media outlets are covering the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria. (Sarah Parnass,Anton Troianovski/The Washington Post)

Syria and Russia, a main backer of Assad, have insisted no chemical attack occurred, and that only the opposition groups they call “terrorists” possess chemical weapons.

Reacting to Trump’s tweet, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that a missile strike could undermine the work of international inspectors that will examine the site of the suspected chemical attack.

“Smart missiles should be fired at terrorists and not at the legitimate government which has been fighting terrorists,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook. “Or is the trick to destroy all the traces with a smart missile strike and then there will be no evidence for international inspectors to look for?”

Trump appeared to be referring to a comment from Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, who was quoted by a Lebanese news outlet on Tuesday saying that Russia would confront a U.S. strike on Syria by shooting down missiles and striking their launchpads.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked about the comment in his regular phone briefing with reporters on Wednesday, did not repeat the warning.

He described the situation in Syria as “rather tense,” but declined to specify how Moscow would respond to a U.S. airstrike against its ally Assad. Russian General Staff Chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov has said the military would hit back if U.S. airstrikes endangered Russian servicemen in Syria.

President Trump said on April 9 that “nothing’s off the table” in responding to a chemical attack in Syria, and that he’d be “very tough” on Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved. (The Washington Post)

“Regarding the question of what will happen in the event of this or that strike, one still wants to hope that all sides will avoid steps that (a) are not provoked by anything in reality and (b) could significantly destabilize the already fragile situation in the region,” Peskov said Wednesday.

In a later tweet Wednesday morning, Trump asserted that “our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.”

“There is no reason for this,” Trump wrote. “Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”

With his series of tweets, Trump did precisely what he vowed he would never to do: Telegraph his moves.

During his 2016 campaign, Trump regularly attacked then-president Obama for previewing U.S. military strategy, which he argued gave the enemy an advantage by being able to fortify itself for the coming attack.

“I have often said that General MacArthur and General Patton would be in a state of shock if they were alive today to see the way President Obama and Hillary Clinton try to recklessly announce their every move before it happens — like they did in Iraq — so that the enemy can prepare and adapt,” Trump said an August 2016 speech on terrorism.

And as president, Trump has boasted that he does not disclose his plans ahead of time. In April 2017, as he contemplated a strike in Syria, Trump said, “One of the things I think you’ve noticed about me is: Militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I’m doing.”

In Geneva, the World Health Organization said Wednesday that it was “deeply alarmed” by the reports that chemical weapons had been used in Syria. At least 43 people were killed Saturday night from suspected exposure, while some 500 patients poured into medical facilities that had been also been bombed, the organization said.

“We should all be outraged at these horrific reports and images from Douma,” said Peter Salama, the WHO director general.

On Tuesday, a network of local flight monitors in Syria said that they had tracked several helicopters heading southwest from a government air base Saturday. The same models of aircraft were later detected circling over Douma at 7:26 p.m. to 7:38 p.m. Reports of a suspected gas attack began circulating minutes later.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global watchdog, said Tuesday that its inspectors were preparing to deploy to Syria, and that Assad’s government had been approached for permission to enter Douma.

But the scope of its mandate remained unclear. The organization is not responsible for naming the perpetrators of any chemical attack, and previous inspectors have said that their missions were hampered by government restrictions

Troianovski reported from Moscow. Louisa Loveluck in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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