Pilots and airlines are being warned of the possibility of cruise missiles in the sky as the US, Britain, France and their allies weigh up their response to a suspected chemical weapon attack in Syria.
The European Aviation Security Agency (EASA) has issued a “rapid alert” for airlines in the Eastern Mediterranean over the possibility of air strikes into Syria within the next 72 hours.
The European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation, Eurocontrol, told operators: “Please note that EASA has issued Rapid Alert Notification for Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR (flight information region) area stating that: Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean/Nicosia FIR area.”
Attack – the alleged chemical attack in Syria has left 40 people dead, activists say (Picture: AP)
The warning comes as the US, UK, France and their allies weigh up retaliatory action following an alleged chemical attack on the Syrian town of Douma on Saturday, which Syrian activists and rescuers say killed 40 people.
Reports suggested more than 500 people, mostly women and children, were taken to medical centres with difficulty breathing, foaming at the mouth and burning sensations in the eyes.
The Syrian government denies responsibility.
Donald Trump’s warning
Mr Trump suggested on Monday that he had little doubt that Syrian government forces were to blame for what he said was a chemical attack.
But in contrast to an incident a year ago involving the use of Sarin gas – which prompted Mr Trump to launch Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield – there does not yet appear to be hard evidence of the use of chemical weapons.
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Despite this, on Tuesday he responded to Russia’s warnings against US military strikes in Syria with a tweet that said missiles “will be coming”.
The US President tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’””
The tweet went on: “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Mr Trump sent a second tweet shortly after, saying the relationship between the US and Russia was “worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War”.
He wrote: “There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”
Mr Trump had previously said the apparent gas attack would be “met forcefully” and cancelled a foreign trip to the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, and Bogota, Colombia, to manage the crisis.
He also met with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, at the White House.
The emir told reporters that he and Mr Trump “see eye to eye” on the Syria problem, adding: “We cannot tolerate with a war criminal. This matter should end immediately.”
Qatar hosts the United States’ main air operations centre for the Middle East, which would coordinate any American air attack in Syria.
The US, France and Britain are in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week.
French President Emmanuel Macron called for a “strong and joint response” to the attack and said his country will continue discussing technical and strategic information with US and British allies and “in the coming days we will announce our decision”.
Members of the Security Council met to discuss the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria (Picture: AP)
Russia has urged the US to avoid taking military action.
Moscow’s ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, said: “I would once again beseech you to refrain from the plans that you’re currently developing”, and warned Washington that it would “bear responsibility” for any “illegal military adventure”..
The Russian military, which has troops in Syria, said on Monday that its officers had visited the site of the alleged attack and found no evidence to back up reports of poison gas being used.
The UK’s position
Theresa May has agreed with her American and French counterparts that the international community needs to respond.
The Prime Minister spoke to Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday and Downing Street said the three leaders agreed that the international community “needed to respond to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons”.
A spokeswoman said Mrs May held separate calls with the two leaders on Tuesday and that they agreed the reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria were “utterly reprehensible” and that they would “continue working closely together”.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson criticised Russia after it vetoed a US draft resolution at the United Nations which sought to create a new body to determine responsibility for the attack.
Mr Johnson said the move was “hugely disappointing” and accused Russia of “holding the Syrian people to political ransom by supporting a regime responsible for at least four heinous chemical attacks against its people.”
Karen Pierce, the UK ambassador to the UN, said it was a “sad day for the Security Council” and “for the people of Douma”, adding that Russia’s “credibility as a member of the council is now in question”.
(Top picture: AP)