US, France and Britain vow to punish Assad if he uses chemical weapons again

Joint statement comes after Syrian regime was not held to account over Khan Sheikhoun killings

This handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syria's President Bashar al-Assad as he chairs the central committee of the ruling Baath party in Damascus on October 7, 2018. (Photo by - / SANA / AFP) / == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / HO / SANA" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS ==
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The US, France and Britain vowed on Friday to “respond appropriately” if Syrian President Bashar Al Assad again uses chemical weapons, saying it was indisputable that his regime had done so.

A joint statement by the three countries was released a day after the UN Security Council met privately to discuss the situation in Syria and how to hold the government accountable for such attacks, having failed to do so in the past.

The remarks, from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came on the second anniversary of deaths in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria. An estimated 80 people were killed. Hundreds suffered symptoms consistent with reactions to a nerve agent dropped from the sky from what Western powers said was a government air strike.

“We the United States, United Kingdom and France warn against, and remain firm in our resolve to respond appropriately to, any use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime,” the statement said.

“The regime’s history of repeatedly using chemical weapons against its own people cannot be disputed, and we remain determined to hold it accountable for indiscriminately killing innocent men, women and children with these heinous weapons.”

A similar attack purportedly took place in Douma, an eastern region of Syria, almost one year ago, killing more than 40 people, according to rescue workers and medics. So far, however, the Assad regime has not been directly held accountable for either incident.

Russia and China's ability to use their veto powers on the Security Council has repeatedly hobbled any joint action or response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Independent investigations designed to attribute responsibility for attacks were stymied or shut down.

However, the US, Britain and France said they would stop such blocking measures from now on.

“Responsible states have remained committed to upholding the prohibition against chemical weapons and ensuring that there will be no impunity for those who use, seek to use, or protect those who use these weapons, in particular by strengthening the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” the statement said.

“The OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team will now work to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons use in Syria, an important step in ensuring accountability. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France reaffirm their strong resolve to work jointly in achieving this practical goal.”