Syria's Assad preparing chemical attack - White House

Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad may be preparing a chemical weapons attack that would result in the "mass murder" of civilians, the White House said Monday, warning the regime would pay a "heavy price" if it goes ahead.

Defense officials were "caught off guard" Monday by a White House statement warning against "potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime", Buzzfeed reports.

He said the activities were similar to preparations taken before the attack in April, but provided no evidence or further explanation.

Mr Spicer warned that "if Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price".

Within a week of the April airstrike, Spicer told reporters that the White House was "open [to] the possibility of future" strikes on Syria, if "we see this kind of action again".

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Assad had denied responsibility for the April attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Idlib province that killed dozens of people, including children.

He has said repeatedly that his forces turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russian Federation to avoid threatened U.S. military action.

In April, worldwide chemical weapons inspectors found what they called "incontrovertible" evidence that Sarin gas, or a similar substance, was used in the chemical attack that killed 89 people.

The U.S. strikes hit a Syrian airbase believed to be the source of the chemical weapons. In the days following, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis cautioned that the USA was prepared to take further action if Syria repeated such chemical weapons use.

Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, followed up Spicer's statement with a Twitter warning: "Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people".

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Syria's war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests that spiraled into a complex and devastating conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people.

Russian Federation and Iran are both staunch backers of the Assad regime.

Since the April military strike, Washington has repeatedly struck Iranian-backed militia and even shot down a drone threatening US-led coalition forces.

The coalition is also backing a major assault on the last IS-held pockets of Mosul in neighboring Iraq.

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