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UN Council To Meet On Possible U.S. Air Strikes In Syria At Russia's Request

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya

The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on April 13 at Russia's request on the "threat to international peace" from possible air strikes on Syria by the United States and its allies.

"The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war," Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya said. But he added that "we cannot exclude" the possibility of Western air strikes escalating into a broader conflict in light of what he called Washington's "bellicose" messages to Russia this week.

"The danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria, because our militaries are there... So the situation is very dangerous," Nebenzya said.

Russia has thousands of troops and military advisers in Syria as well as dozens of aircraft at its Hmeymim air base and 10 to 15 warships in the Mediterranean off the coast of Syria.

Nebenzya made his comments as U.S. CIA Director Mike Pompeo told Congress on April 12 that a "couple hundred Russians" were killed by U.S. artlllery and air strikes in February when a base housing U.S. troops and their allies was attacked in eastern Syria. Pompeo described that as evidence "the Russians met their match."

The scheduled UN debate comes after U.S. President Donald Trump on April 12 appeared to put off what seemed earlier in the week like imminent U.S. air strikes in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on the Syrian town of Douma that killed at least 43 civilians on April 7.

"Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!" Trump wrote on Twitter after having warned Russia the previous day to "get ready" for missile strikes which he said "will be coming."

Trump held meetings with his national security advisers and conferred with France and Britain on the Syrian situation throughout the day on April 12. Both European allies have pledged a "joint response" to the alleged chemical attack.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress that the Pentagon is still trying to pin down evidence related to the Douma attack, but French President Emmanuel Macron asserted that "we have proof"that "chemical weapons.. at least chlorine" was used by the Syrian government in Douma.

An investigative team dispatched by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is scheduled to arrive in Douma on April 14 to document what happened there.

Mattis said no decision had been made about carrying out missile strikes. He said he is concerned "that we don't add any civilians deaths" to the nearly half million people already killed during Syria's seven-year civil war.

Mattis added that he also is concerned about "how do we keep this from escalating out of control."

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters