White House: Syria could be preparing another chemical weapons attack

Brazil's President Michel Temer speaks during a ceremony at the Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia Monday

Syrian President Bashar Assad denied that his regime carried out a chemical attack.

New York Times White House correspondent Michael D. Shear tweeted that several military officials were "caught off guard" by the statement.

It warned the use of chemical weapons "would likely result in mass murder of civilians, including innocent children", adding that Assad and his military would "pay a heavy price".

A chemical attack was conducted April 4 that left more than 80 people dead, including children young enough to still be wearing diapers when they were killed.

White House officials did not respond to requests for comment on potential USA plans or the intelligence that prompted the statement about Syria's preparations for an attack. Officials made a decision to issue the warning to the Assad regime about the consequences of a chemical attack on civilians in an attempt to deter a strike. Trump ordered the strike on the Shayrat airfield in Syria. U.S. and allied intelligence officers have identified several sites where they suspect the Assad government may be hiding newly-made chemical weapons from inspectors.

The White House said it detected activities similar to preparations ahead of a chemical attack April 4.

The strike put Washington in confrontation with Russian Federation, which has backed Assad with air strikes in his six-year civil war with rebels.

It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president months before.

The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war.

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 Asaad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people".

The U.S. military's stated goal in Syria is to defeat Islamic State, but has stepped up attacks on the Syrian government in recent months as it continues to support anti-government rebels.

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