WASHINGTON: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer got himself in hot water on Tuesday when he appeared to -- at least momentarily -- forget the Holocaust, suggesting Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons on his own people.
Speaking about a chemical attack in Syria which the US blames on Bashar al-Assad, Donald Trump's high-profile spokesman said: "You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn't even sink to using chemical weapons."
His comments, on the first day of the Jewish festival of Passover, brought looks of astonishment from the assembled White House press corps, who offered Spicer a chance to clarify.
"I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no -- he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing," Spicer said, returning to the subject.
As journalists shouted "what about the Holocaust?" Spicer continued, "I think there is clearly... I understand the point, thank you, thank you I appreciate that."
Hitler "brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. But I'm saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down, to innocent -- into the middle of towns, it was brought... so the use of it, I appreciate the clarification, that was not the intent."
In a further written clarification, Spicer said he was "in no way... trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust."
"I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable," he said.
It was not the first time this week that Spicer has found himself in rhetorical difficulty over Syria.
On Monday, he suggested that Trump could take military action if Assad were to drop more barrel bombs -- a regular occurrence in Syria's brutal war and a red line that would spell almost certain US military action.
The White House privately walked back his comments.
Later in Tuesday's briefing, Spicer also declared Iran a failed state.