U.S. President Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron say they will coordinate "a strong, joint response" to a reported chemical attack in Syria's rebel-held city of Douma that has sparked international outrage.
During a phone call on April 8, the two leaders condemned the "horrific" attack and agreed that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "must be held accountable for its continued human rights abuses."
Macron’s office said the two countries would coordinate their efforts at an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council on April 9, called for by the United States, France, Britain, Sweden, Poland, the Netherlands, Kuwait, Peru, and Ivory Coast.
Trump on April 8 condemned Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, along with Iran for their support of Assad in the wake of what he described as the "mindless CHEMICAL attack" in Syria on April 7 that left "many dead, including women and children."
Trump also called Assad an "animal" and said there would be a "big price to pay" for the use of weapons of mass destruction.
Also raising tensions early on April 9 were unconfirmed reports by Syrian state media that a missile strike had hit a Syrian military facility near the city of Homs, killing and injuring several people.
Syrian state-run SANA news agency initially said U.S. forces were suspected in the attack and that Syria's air defenses had shot down eight missiles. The news agency later withdrew any mention of U.S. involvement.
The Pentagon issued a statement saying that "at this time, the Department of Defense is not conducting air strikes in Syria."
"However, we continue to closely watch the situation and support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable," it added.
On April 7, 2017, the U.S. military fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria's Shayrat airfield after concluding that government aircraft had departed from the airfield loaded with sarin gas for a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.
Along with the United States, France and Britain accused Assad's forces of carrying out the air assault on Khan Sheikhun, a conclusion supported by a fact-finding mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Syria denied it was responsible for the 2017 attack on Khan Sheikhun, which killed at least 80 people.
Syria, Russia, and Iran also rejected as a "fabrication" the latest reports that more than 100 people have died from the chlorine-gas attack on Douma, a rebel-held town in eastern Ghouta that is besieged by Assad's Russian and Iranian-backed forces.
As condemnation poured in from around the world, Reuters reported that a deal was reached on April 8 between Russia's Defense Ministry and Syria's opposition for the evacuation of rebel fighters from Douma under supervison of Russian military police.
Syrian state media reported late on April 8 that the first batch of rebels had begun to leave Douma.
There was no word from Moscow about if or when Russia would allow independent chemical-weapons inspectors a chance to investigate Moscow's claim that there was no chemical attack on Douma.
Trump has demanded that international inspectors and emergency medical workers be given immediate access to the besieged city, saying Assad's forces were preventing access to Douma by emergency workers and international investigators.
Reuters quoted U.S. government sources late on April 8 as saying the assessment of U.S. authorities, "with some degree of confidence," was that chemical weapons were used in Douma, but they were still evaluating details.
'Supporters Of The Regime'
The European Union, meanwhile, said on April 8 that evidence points to "yet another chemical attack by the regime" in Syria.
The EU also called for an international response and called on Russia and Iran, as "supporters of the regime," to use their influence with Assad to prevent any further chemical attacks.
France has repeatedly warned that evidence of further use of chemical weapons in Syria was a "red line" that would prompt French military strikes.
"The use of chemical weapons is a war crime," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an April 8 statement, adding that France will "do its duty" if the reported attack on Douma is verified.
Opposition-linked first responders, so-called Syria Civil Defense emergency workers known as White Helmets, and other activist groups said a helicopter dropped toxic gas inside barrel bombs late on April 7 over Douma, causing people to suffocate and choke.
The White Helmets have also posted video online of what they say are chemical-attack survivors, including children, being treated at a makeshift medical clinic in Douma.
Russia and Iran have given crucial military and diplomatic backing to Assad's government throughout Syria’s war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions.
The offensive by Syrian government forces and their allies, which involved weeks of intense bombardment, has left more than 1,600 civilians dead and thousands more wounded in eastern Ghouta since February 18, according to the monitor group.