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Trump Cancels South America Trip As U.S. Mulls Military Action In Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump (file photo)

U.S. President Donald Trump has canceled a scheduled trip to South America later this week as Washington considers military action against Syria over an alleged chemical attack.

Trump threatened on April 9 to take conduct military strikes against the Syrian government over a suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians over the weekend, even as Russia warned any such action would have "grave repercussions."

In a bid to head off Western military strikes, Syria's Foreign Ministry said on April 10 that it had invited the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to visit the site of the alleged attack.

The Syrian government has denied it was behind the alleged attack in the rebel-held town of Douma near the capital, Damascus.

Several hours after the invitation, the OPCW said it will "shortly" deploy a fact-finding team to Douma to probe the alleged chemical attack that killed at least 40 people, including children.

In anticipation for a potential strike, Syrian military forces were mobilizing, according to a war monitor.

"At midnight, the army command put all military positions on alert, including airports and all bases, for a period of 72 hours," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on April 10.

Earlier, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump would not attend the Summit of the Americas in Peru on April 13 and later visit Colombia, remaining in the United States to "oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world."

Sanders said Vice President Mike Pence will travel in Trump’s place.

The decision came a day after Trump threatened to conduct a military strike against Syria, saying he would "forcefully" respond to the alleged chemical attack and would soon decide how.

Trump declared that the Syrian government's allies, Russia and Iran, or any other nation found to share responsibility for the alleged chemical attack on April 7 in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, would "pay a price."

The attack in Douma killed at least 40 people, including children.

Trump's decision came as the Syrian government invited the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an international chemical weapons watchdog, to send a fact-finding mission to investigate the suspected chemical attack.

The Syrian government has denied it unleashed a chemical attack in Douma.

The United States has requested the Security Council vote on April 10 on a proposal for a new inquiry on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, even though the resolution would likely be vetoed by Syrian ally Russia.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on April 10 that Moscow will propose a UN Security Council resolution calling for an investigation by the OCPW into the attack.

In November, Russia used its veto at the Security Council to force the shutdown of a joint UN-OPCW panel investigating chemical attacks, after the panel said the Syrian government was behind a deadly sarin gas attack earlier last year.

Trump ordered missile strikes on a Syrian air base a year ago in response to the sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun. Syria denied it was responsible for the attack, which killed at least 80 people.

With reporting by AP and AFP