Iran's ex-president says Syria government behind gas attack

DUBAI (REUTERS) - Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said the Syrian government, a strong ally of Teheran, carried out a chemical weapons attack against its own people, the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) reported on Sunday.

His remarks differed sharply from those of other Iranian officials, who have said rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were responsible for a poison gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug 21 that has drawn Western threats of military reprisals against the Syrian government.

"The people have been the target of a chemical attack by their own government, and now they must also wait for an attack by foreigners," Mr Rafsanjani said, according to ILNA.

"Right now, America, the Western world, along with some of the Arab countries, are nearly issuing a clarion call for war in Syria. May God have mercy on the people of Syria," he said.

"The people of Syria have seen much damage in these two years. The prisons are overflowing, and they've converted stadiums into prisons. More than 100,000 people killed and millions displaced show the plight of Syria more than ever before," he added.

Mr Rafsanjani is a close ally of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and chairs Iran's Expediency Council, which advises Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian soldiers suffered chemical weapons attacks during the country's 1980-1988 war with Iraq, and Iran has repeatedly condemned their use.