US Defence Sec'y Mattis: Syria still has chemical weapons


US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he said would have to be taken up diplomatically.

Mattis met with Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin after speaking with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Leiberman in Tel Aviv.

The implication is that Syria may be concerned about additional USA air strikes following the cruise missile attack earlier this month in retaliation for alleged Syrian use of sarin gas.

Lieberman declined to comment on news reports that Israel believes Syria still holds between one ton and three tons of chemical weapons. "We have opened Russian faculties in all of the country's universities, while children receive tuition from the seventh grade", said the official, addressing Russia's upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, in Moscow.

That includes defeating Islamic State and confronting Iran, which Mattis said continues to threaten Israel and its neighbors with ballistic missiles, through its maritime activities, and through its proxies and surrogates such as Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that's helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stay in power.

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Like the allegations over this staged chemical weapons attack, Mattis' charge that Syria has kept its chemical weapons is totally unsubstantiated and created to provide the pretext for further U.S. military aggression.

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. It's a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions.

Iran's influence is at the top of the list for Israel, a worry shared by the United States.

Mattis hopes to hear directly from Israeli leaders on their concerns and what they expect from the Trump administration, a U.S. defence official said.

The two countries are working to set a more positive tone after eight years of friction under President Donald Trump's Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

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Before meeting with Mattis in Yerushalayim, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told reporters that Israel is encouraged by the change of administrations in Washington.

Israel captured the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau, in a 1967 Middle East war.

Hezbollah and Iran, both bitter enemies of Israel, along with Russian Federation have sent forces to support Assad.

Bashar al-Assad has also made Russian the second language in Syria.

"Our alliance with Israel is the cornerstone of a larger regional security architecture, which includes cooperation with Egypt, Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf partners", he said.

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