US President Donald Trump denied on Wednesday that he ever ordered or even considered ordering the assassination of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, as claimed in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward.
"Not at all. The book is fiction," Trump said in the Oval Office, according to CNN. "I heard somewhere where they said the assassination of President Assad by the United States. Never even discussed."
"It was never even contemplated, nor would it ever be contemplated," he added.
At the same time, Trump also warned the Syrian regime on Wednesday that "the world is watching" as government forces prepare to assault the last rebel stronghold of Idlib.
"They will hopefully be very, very judicious and careful. Because the world is watching. That cannot be a slaughter. If it's a slaughter, the world is going to get very, very angry. And the United States is going to get angry, too. I am watching that very closely," he stressed.
Syrian government forces are planning a phased offensive in Idlib and surrounding areas held by insurgents fighting Assad, who has been backed by both Russian and Iranian forces in the country’s civil war.
Trump earlier this week issued a warning to Assad regarding an attack in Idlib.
“President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!” he tweeted.
The US has twice struck Syrian military installations in response to alleged poison gas attacks. The Syrian government denies using chemical weapons and accuses “terrorists” of being behind chemical attacks.
Trump on Wednesday said Idlib province is currently "surrounded by a lot of people with a lot of weapons" and expressed concern about the three million civilians he said currently live in Idlib.
"You have at least three million innocent people there," Trump said. "The world is watching and the United States is watching very closely."
In a statement released on Tuesday, the White House warned that "millions of innocent civilians are under threat of an imminent Assad regime attack, backed by Russia and Iran."
"President Donald J. Trump has warned that such an attack would be a reckless escalation of an already tragic conflict and would risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Let us be clear, it remains our firm stance that if President Bashar al-Assad chooses to again use chemical weapons, the United States and its Allies will respond swiftly and appropriately," the White House statement said.