U.S. Pentagon chief says Syria still holds chemical arsenal

2017-04-21 15:05:55 GMT2017-04-21 23:05:55(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

JERUSALEM, April 21 (Xinhua) -- United State Defense Secretary James Mattis said during a visit to Israel on Friday that there is "no doubt" Syria still possesses chemical weapons.

Mattis' remark was made at the beginning of a one-day round of talks with senior Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, which voiced a strong support to the U.S. airstrike on an airbase in Idlib in the wake of President Bashar Assad's forces' alleged chemical attack.

"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," Mattis told a press conference held jointly with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

"It's a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it's going to have to be taken up diplomatically, and they'd be ill-advised to try to use any again. We've made that very clear with our strike," Mattis said.

Later, during comments at the start of a meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mattis hailed the "longtime" alliance between Israel and the U.S.

Mattis echoed Netanyahu, referring Iran-backed militant Islam and Sunni extremists led by the Islamic State group as the major threats to the region.

"The two dangers that face Israel and all of the other nations in the region that are trying to maintain a stable and peaceful and prosperous region are those that I'm here to discuss with the prime minister," Mattis said.

Netanyahu, who had strained relations with President Donald Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, applaud the administration's change of policy in the Middle East. "We sense a great change in the direction of American policy," he said.

Hailing the airstrike on Idlib on April 4, Netanyahu said the attack "has been appreciated around the world and in our region."

Syria and Russia have strongly denied that Assad's army used chemical weapons against civilians. About 90 people died in the attack. In response, the U.S. fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the airbase from which the chemical attack was said to have been launched.

Mattis' visit is part of a trip to the region. On Thursday, he met with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and told him that the U.S. is keen to take the bilateral defense cooperation, which he describes as strong, to a higher level.

On Tuesday, he met with senior officials in Saudi Arabia, a leading ally in the coalition against the Houthi militants in Yemen, which according to the U.S. are supported by Iran.

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