Catholic leaders slam US response to Syria chemical attack

Catholic leaders have spoken out against the U.S. response to the deadly chemical attack in Syria last week, saying investigations should have been conducted before the missile strikes on an air base believed to be the origin of the deadly chemical weapons attack.

(REUTERS / Ammar Abdullah)A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017.

On April 6, U.S. President Donald Trump accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of being responsible for the "horrible chemical weapons attack" reported on April 4 which killed a lot of civilians in Khan Shaykun. The American leader also announced a missile strike targeting an air base believed to be the source of the chemical weapons used in the attack.

"There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the U.N. Security Council," said Trump in his statement.

However, the response drew flak from several prominent Catholic leaders. Speaking to the Catholic News Service in an interview, Syrian Catholic Patriarch Ignace Joseph Younan labeled the strike as an aggression and suggested that the U.S. should have waited for the United Nations to finish an investigation into the origin of the chemical attack.

"The agglomerate media and the supremacist policy of the USA just want the killing and destroying conflict in Syria to continue, and this primarily to kill whatever attempt to resolve the bloody crisis," said Younan.

Aleppo-based Catholic Bishop Georges Khazen, on the other hand, told Agenzia Fides that he was troubled over the short time that it took the decide on the missile strike on the Syrian airbase. He said the strike "opens new disturbing scenarios for all," considering that there was no thorough investigation into the chemical attack.

Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official who spoke under condition of anonymity said the U.S. found that Russia already knew of the chemical attack before it was carried out. The official said a Russian drone flew over a hospital where victims were being treated, and a Russian-made fighter jet bombed the location hours after the drone flew away, The Military Times reports.

American officials reportedly see the hospital bombing as an attempt to cover up the use of chemical weapons. Although the official said the U.S. is now sure that Russia was the one controlling the drone, the controller of the aircraft that targeted the hospital is still unclear because Syrians also use Russian-made jets.