Middle East Allies Join G7 in Bid To Isolate Putin and Assad

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(R-L) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, and Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida the G7. The Foreign Ministers are meeting with leaders from six Middle East nations to put pressure on Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad Max Rossi/Reuters

The foreign ministers of five Middle Eastern states will join the G7 summit in Italy Tuesday as pressure grows against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his main backer, Vladimir Putin.

Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar will join the seven global powers that make up the G7—U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada—to discuss the war in Syria. All five Middle Eastern nations have called for Assad to step down as Syria's leader.

The summit, which began Monday, will focus on Syria and the aftermath of the chemical attack on April 4 when the nerve agent Sarin was dropped on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing more than 80 people. The U.S. and its partners have accused the Syrian regime in Damascus of being responsible for the deaths.

Read more: Russia-Syria ties are set to be top of the agenda at the G7 summit

The Assad government has denied any involvement in the April 4 attack and insists it has not used chemical weapons at any point during Syria's six year civil war.

On April 6, Donald Trump ordered an airstrike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for the Khan Sheikhoun attack, Washington's first direct intervention in the Syrian conflict.

The Pentagon said in a statement Monday that it had destroyed 20 percent of Syria's operational aircraft in the raid. "The Syrian government has lost the ability to refuel or re-arm aircraft at Shayrat airfield and at this point, use of the runway is of idle military interest," Defense Secretary James Mattis said.

The G7 move to present a united front against Assad and show a broad coalition with Arab states and Turkey comes ahead of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's planned trip to Moscow, the first visit by a high-ranking Trump administration official to Russia.

While standing at the site of a World War II Nazi massacre in Italy, Tillerson told reporters that the U.S. would not let similar atrocities be repeated. "We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world," he said.

Britain and Canada have said they will seek sanctions against Moscow if the Kremlin continues to back Assad. A spokesman for the office of the British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that Trump and the U.K. leader had agreed in a phone call that a "window of opportunity" existed to put pressure on Putin to abandon the Syrian president.

Britain had looked to persuade the G7 to back proposals for sanctions against key Russian and Syrian military commanders it believes have been involved in the targeting of civilians. However, Germany and Italy vetoed the initiative over fears the sanctions would back the Kremlin into a corner, the Telegraph reported.

In 2013, the United Nations confirmed 1,300 people were killed in rebel-held Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. The Assad regime is believed to have carried out the attacks.

In the aftermath, Russia brokered a deal that saw a U.N. team supervised the handover of Syria's sarin, a project completed in 2014. However, suspicions persisted that a portion of the stockpile was never surrendered.