Defense Ministers Avigdor Liberman of Israel (left) and James Mattis of the United States in Tel Aviv at a press conference on Friday. Photo: AP video
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Speaking in Tel Aviv alongside Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, the US Secretary of Defense said Syria has chemical weapons and it wouldn’t be wise to use them again, referring to the April 4 attack in the province of Idlib that killed at least 90 people.
"There can be no doubt in the international community's mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all," said James Mattis, the US defense secretary on Friday.
Israeli defense officials said earlier this week that they believe Syria has 3 tons of chemical weapons, although Mattis said during the press conference that he wasn’t going to get into exact amounts to avoid revealing intelligences sources.
"I can say authoritatively they have retained some, it's a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and it's going to have to be taken up diplomatically and they would be ill advised to try to use any again, we made that very clear with our strike," Mattis said, referring to the barrage of missiles directed at the Shayrat air base on April 7 in Syria, which the US believes was used to launch the chemical weapons attack.
It’s the first government reference to specific intelligence regarding President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities since the attack.
Russia, which is Assad’s primary backer, signed an agreement with then US President Barack Obama to ensure such chemical weapons in Syria were eliminated after the deadly 2013 sarin gas attack near Damascus.
Russia said on April 5 it believed Syrian war planes had targeted a “storage facility [that] housed workshops to produce projectiles stuffed with toxic agents.”
Assad has called the chemical attack a “fabrication.”
The World Health Organization and The Associated Press have separately reported around 90-100 people were killed in the April 4 attacks.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced last week that its experts were conducting an investigation and its work would complete within the next two to three weeks.