Alleged chemical weapons attack a lie to justify US strike, says Assad

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with AFP news agency in Damascus, Syria, on April 13, 2017.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with AFP news agency in Damascus, Syria, on April 13, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

DAMASCUS • Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said a suspected chemical weapons attack was a "fabrication" used to justify a US strike on his military.

In an exclusive interview with Agence France-Presse in Damascus, the embattled leader, whose country has been ravaged by six years of civil war, said his firepower had not been affected by the attack ordered by US President Donald Trump.

Mr Assad also said his forces had turned over all their chemical weapon stocks years ago and would never use the banned arms.

The interview on Wednesday was his first since a suspected chemical weapons attack killed dozens of civilians in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.

"Definitely, 100 per cent for us, it's fabrication," said Mr Assad of the incident.

"Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand in glove with the terrorists.

"They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack," added Mr Assad, who has been in power for 17 years.

At least 87 people, including 31 children, were killed in the attack, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Images of the aftermath, showing victims convulsing and foaming at the mouth, sent shock waves around the world.

But Mr Assad said it was "not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now".

He added: "We don't know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun. Were they dead at all?"

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has begun an investigation into the alleged attack, but Russia on Wednesday blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding Syria cooperate.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's first direct talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week failed to ease deepening tensions over Syria.

Mr Trump on Wednesday said he believed relations between Moscow and Washington were near rock-bottom. But yesterday, he tweeted: "Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia. At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2017, with the headline 'Alleged chemical weapons attack a lie to justify US strike, says Assad'. Print Edition | Subscribe