Russian Federation calls chemical attack in Syria a 'fabrication'

Russia's President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during an awarding ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow Russia

"But should the United States and our allies decide to act in Syria, it will be in defense of a principle on which we all agree", Haley told the U.N. Security Council.

The prospect of Western military action in Syria that could lead to confrontation with Russian Federation hung over the Middle East on Friday but there was no clear sign a US -led attack was imminent.

A fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is expected to head to Douma, the site of the suspected attack.

During his meeting with Trump and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford, Mattis pushed for more evidence of the Assad regime's culpability for the attack, to bolster the case for air strikes, The New York Times reported. The medics said none of the patients were hurt by chemicals.

There was no word from Putin himself, though Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was in contact with Washington to discuss an atmosphere which he described as alarming.

Russia's United Nations ambassador warned that US-led strikes could lead to a confrontation between the world's two preeminent nuclear powers, accusing the West of having the sole aim in Syria of overthrowing the government as it urged US, French and British leaders to refrain from military action.

Russian Federation has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and has helped turn the tide of war in his favor since entering the conflict in September 2015.

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Nikki Haley said: "When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line".

The US, Britain and France say they launched airstrikes against Syrian chemical sites after obtaining "proof" that poisonous gas was used last weekend in Douma, killing 41 civilians.

"We continue to observe unsafe military preparations for an illegal act of force against a sovereign state", Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council.

Trump administration officials told The Associated Press in February they believed forces loyal to Assad might have been in the process of working on new or more refined chemical weapons.

The Syria crisis has come as a test not only for Trump, but incoming White House national security adviser John Bolton, a hawk who joined Trump's team this week.

The capture of Douma has clinched a major victory for Assad, crushing what was once a centre of the insurgency near Damascus, and underlines his unassailable position in the war. Last year, the United States carried out strikes from two Navy destroyers against a Syrian air base after another deadly toxic gas attack on a rebel-controlled area.

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