Syria rebels’ chem­i­cal at­tack ‘fab­ri­cated’

Khaleej Times - - FRONT PAGE -

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 de­fence min­istry said rebels fired weapons con­tain­ing chlo­rine on Novem­ber 24 on the regime-held 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 mil­i­tants bat­tling Pres­i­dent Bashar Al As­sad, throw­ing into ques­tion a truce reached in midSeptem­ber.

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 Or­ga­ni­za­tion 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.

He said that Rus­sia and Syria were “using it as an op­por­tu­nity to un­der­mine con­fi­dence in the cease­fire in Idlib”.

In a sim­i­lar state­ment, Bri­tain 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.

Rus­sia’s em­bassy in Washington hit back on Face­book.

“The Rus­sian De­fence Min­istry does not rule out that the US De­part­ment of State’s al­le­ga­tions about the re­cent toxic chem­i­cals at­tack in Syria’s Aleppo are aimed at dis­tract­ing the pub­lic at­ten­tion from the crimes of the US avi­a­tion in the east of the Mid­dle East­ern coun­try,” the post said.

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 United Na­tions. US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump replied by or­der­ing 59 cruise mis­siles to strike a Syr­ian air base.

— AFP file

Syr­ian Civil De­fence mem­bers search for sur­vivors fol­low­ing air strikes in Idlib.

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