US ac­cuses Rus­sia of ly­ing on Syria at­tack to un­der­mine truce

The Borneo Post (Sabah) - - WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON: The United States and Bri­tain ac­cused Rus­sia on Fri­day of fab­ri­cat­ing a story about chem­i­cal weapons use by Syr­ian rebels and warned Moscow against un­der­min­ing a shaky truce.

Rus­sia’s de­fense min­istry said rebels fired weapons con­tain­ing chlo­rine on Nov 24 on the regime­held city of Aleppo, with Syr­ian state me­dia re­port­ing that around 100 Syr­i­ans were hos­pi­tal­ized for breath­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

Rus­sia re­sponded to the pur­ported at­tack with air raids on Idlib, the lat­est ma­jor strong­hold of rebels and ji­hadists bat­tling Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad, throw­ing into ques­tion a truce reached in mid-Septem­ber.

The United States said it had ‘cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion’ that the chlo­rine ac­count was false and that Rus­sian and Syr­ian forces in­stead had fired tear gas.

“The United States is deeply con­cerned that pro-regime of­fi­cials have main­tained con­trol of the at­tack site in its im­me­di­ate af­ter­math, al­low­ing them to po­ten­tially fab­ri­cate sam­ples and con­tam­i­nate the site be­fore a proper in­ves­ti­ga­tion of it by the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons,” State Depart­ment spokesman Robert Pal­ladino said in a state­ment.

“We cau­tion Rus­sia and the regime against tam­per­ing with the sus­pected at­tack site and urge them to se­cure the safety of im­par­tial, in­de­pen­dent in­spec­tors so that those re­spon­si­ble can be held ac­count­able,” he said. said it was “highly un­likely” that chlo­rine or the op­po­si­tion were in­volved in the in­ci­dent.

“It is likely that this was ei­ther a staged in­ci­dent in­tended to frame the op­po­si­tion, or an op­er­a­tion which went wrong and from which Rus­sia and the regime sought to take ad­van­tage,” a For­eign Of­fice spokesper­son said, also back­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the OPCW, the in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog.

West­ern pow­ers, the United Na­tions and hu­man rights groups have re­peat­edly pointed to chem­i­cal at­tacks by As­sad’s forces.

A sarin gas at­tack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhun killed 83 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the UN. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump replied by or­der­ing 59 cruise mis­siles to strike a Syr­ian air base, a re­ver­sal from his pre­de­ces­sor Barack Obama’s con­tro­ver­sial re­luc­tance to re­spond mil­i­tar­ily.

Rus­sia, the top in­ter­na­tional backer of As­sad, and the Syr­ian govern­ment both de­nied the in­ci­dent, say­ing footage of suf­fer­ing vic­tims in­clud­ing chil­dren was staged.

In the lat­est in­ci­dent, a US of­fi­cial said that sus­pi­cions were raised as Rus­sia and Syria im­me­di­ately put out sim­i­lar of­fi­cial me­dia ac­counts and quickly car­ried out strikes.

The of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity, said that wit­nesses did not re­port the odor of chlo­rine that is char­ac­ter­is­tic of such at­tacks.

“Tech­ni­cal anal­y­sis of videos and im­ages of mu­ni­tion rem­nants in­di­cate the mor­tars por­trayed in Rus­sian me­dia are not suit­able for de­liv­er­ing chlo­rine,” the of­fi­cial said.

Rus­sia’s al­le­ga­tions over the lat­est in­ci­dent come amid elu­sive ef­forts to find a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 360,000 peo­ple and dis­placed mil­lions.

Ne­go­tia­tors from Rus­sia and fel­low As­sad ally Iran met last week with op­po­si­tion sup­porter Turkey in Kaza­khstan’s cap­i­tal As­tana, mak­ing no ap­par­ent head­way in a UN-backed goal of set­ting up a con­sti­tu­tional com­mit­tee by the end of the year.

But Rus­sia and Turkey agreed to keep work­ing to pre­serve the U-shaped buf­fer zone around Idlib, which is keep­ing pro­gov­ern­ment forces out of the re­gion. — AFP

In this file photo shows Syr­ian Civil De­fence mem­bers search­ing for sur­vivors amid the rub­ble fol­low­ing re­ported Rus­sian air strikes the pre­vi­ous night on the Syr­ian north­west­ern city of Idlib. — AFP photo

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