Rus­sia claims chem­i­cal at­tack in Syria was faked by the U.K.

Austin American-Statesman - - NATION & WORLD - By Vladimir Isachenkov

The Rus­sian MOSCOW — De­fense Min­istry on Fri­day ac­cused Bri­tain of stag­ing a fake chem­i­cal at­tack in a Syr­ian town out­side Da­m­as­cus, a bold charge ve­he­mently de­nied by Bri­tain as a “bla­tant lie.” The ex­change fol­lows the poi­son­ing of a for­mer Rus­sian spy in Bri­tain, and comes amid Moscow’s stern warn­ings to the West against strik­ing Syria.

A day be­fore a team from the in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog was to ar­rive in Douma, just east of Da­m­as­cus, Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that im­ages of vic­tims of the pur­ported at­tack were staged with “Bri­tain’s di­rect in­volve­ment,” with­out pro­vid­ing ev­i­dence.

Bri­tain’s am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions, Karen Pierce, dis­missed Konashenkov’s claim as “a bla­tant lie.” Pierce said she wanted “to state cat­e­gor­i­cally ... that Bri­tain has no in­volve­ment and would never have any in­volve­ment in the use of a chem­i­cal weapon.”

White Hel­mets first-re­spon­ders and Syr­ian ac­tivists have claimed the sus­pected chem­i­cal at­tack was car­ried out by the Syr­ian govern­ment April 7 and killed more than 40 peo­ple in Douma, al­le­ga­tions that drew in­ter­na­tional out­rage and prompted Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies to con­sider a mil­i­tary re­sponse. Moscow warned against any strikes and threat­ened to re­tal­i­ate.

Konashenkov re­leased state­ments he said came from medics at Douma’s hos­pi­tal, say­ing a group of peo­ple tot­ing video cam­eras en­tered the hos­pi­tal, shout­ing that its pa­tients were struck with chem­i­cal weapons, dous­ing them with wa­ter and caus­ing panic. The state­ment said none of the pa­tients had any symp­toms of chem­i­cal poi­son­ing.

Konashenkov said that “pow­er­ful pres­sure from Lon­don was ex­erted on rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the so-called White Hel­mets to quickly stage the pre­med­i­tated provo­ca­tion.” He added that the Rus­sian mil­i­tary has proof of Bri­tish in­volve­ment, but didn’t im­me­di­ately present it.

“This is grotesque,” Pierce said of the Rus­sian state­ment as she left an emer­gency meet­ing of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil called by Rus­sia on U.S. threat­ened mil­i­tary ac­tion in re­sponse to the al­leged at­tack. “It’s some of the worst piece of fake news we’ve yet seen from the Rus­sia pro­pa­ganda ma­chine.”

Konashenkov’s claim fol­lowed an ear­lier state­ment by Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov, who said that “in­tel­li­gence agen­cies of a state that is now striv­ing to spear­head a Russo-pho­bic cam­paign were in­volved in that fabri­ca­tion.” He didn’t elab­o­rate or name the state.

Last month, Bri­tain blamed Rus­sia for a nerve agent at­tack on an ex-spy and his daugh­ter, ac­cu­sa­tions Rus­sia has ve­he­mently de­nied.

As fears of a Rus­sia con­fronta­tion with West­ern pow­ers mount, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron ex­pressed his “deep con­cerns” over the sit­u­a­tion in Syria in a phone call with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment by the French pres­i­dency, Macron called for di­a­logue between France and Rus­sia to “con­tinue and in­ten­sify” to bring peace and sta­bil­ity to Syria. The Krem­lin read­out said that Putin warned against rush­ing to blame the Syr­ian govern­ment be­fore con­duct­ing a “thor­ough and ob­jec­tive probe.”

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