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Pentagon: ‘active preparations’ by Syria for chemical attack

FILE -In this fie picture taken on Tuesday April 4, 2017, Abdul-Hamid Alyousef, 29, holds his twin babies who were killed during a suspected chemical weapons attack, in Khan Sheikhoun in the northern province of Idlib, Syria. The Syrian government on Tuesday, June 27, 2017 dismissed White House allegations that it was preparing a new chemical weapons attack, as activists reported an airstrike on an Islamic State-run jail in eastern Syria that they said killed more than 40 prisoners. (Alaa Alyousef via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon on Tuesday said it detected “active preparations” by Syria for a chemical weapons attack, giving weight to a White House statement hours earlier that the Syrian government would “pay a heavy price” if it carried out such an attack.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said the U.S. had seen “activity” at Shayrat airfield that “indicated active preparations for chemical weapons use.” That is the same base from which the Syria air force launched an attack in April that the U.S. and others said used lethal chemicals to kill civilians. Syria denied the charge.

President Bashar Assad’s government and Russia dismissed the White House allegation that Damascus was preparing a new chemical weapons attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “such threats to Syria’s legitimate leaders are unacceptable.” Russia is Assad’s key backer and sided with him when he denied responsibility for a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Idlib province on April 4.

The U.S. responded to that attack by hitting the airfield with dozens of cruise missiles.

A Monday evening statement by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the U.S. had “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children.”

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

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Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Josh Lederman, Lolita C. Baldor, Vivian Salama and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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