Evidence that Syria sarin gas attack was staged: Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and his Iranian counterpart, Mr Mohammad Javada Zarif, ahead of talks with Syrian officials in Moscow yesterday on the situation in Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and his Iranian counterpart, Mr Mohammad Javada Zarif, ahead of talks with Syrian officials in Moscow yesterday on the situation in Syria.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Kremlin says US has not shown proof that Syrian leader Assad responsible for attack

MOSCOW • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday said a chemical weapons attack in Syria that provoked US missile strikes on the Middle Eastern country may have been orchestrated.

"There's growing evidence that this was staged," he said at a Moscow news conference with his Iranian and Syrian counterparts.

Publications, including in the United States and Britain, have highlighted "many inconsistencies" in the version of events in Syria's Idlib province last week that was used to justify the American air strikes, Mr Lavrov said.

Russia, Iran and Syria want an independent investigation and those opposed to the call "don't have a clear conscience", he said.

Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on Wednesday that demanded that the Syrian government cooperate with an inquiry into the suspected sarin gas attack that killed dozens of people.

US President Donald Trump ordered cruise missile strikes on an airbase in Syria last week, after his administration accused Russia of trying to cover up Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's role in the chemical weapons attack. Moscow contends that the chemicals belonged to terrorists.

STARK REALITY

The reality is that more than 300,000 have died, 11 million people have been displaced or become refugees, tens of thousands have been placed in Syrian prisons and a country has been destroyed. That is the reality. It is not a fantasy.

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER JEAN-MARC AYRAULT, on claims by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that "fake videos" and "propaganda" were being used against his government.

WASHINGTON'S ASSERTION

(The US) is confident that the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people.

A DOCUMENT PUBLISHED BY WASHINGTON

Mr Lavrov called on the US not to repeat the air strikes, which he said were part of efforts to oust Mr Assad that will not succeed.

The crisis dominated talks in Moscow between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday as the Kremlin rebuffed demands to abandon its ally, Mr Assad.

Mr Putin's military backing of Mr Assad has been crucial in keeping the regime in power after six years of civil war.

The US has not shown evidence that Mr Assad was responsible for the April 4 attack in Idlib, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters yesterday in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where Mr Putin was attending a collective defence meeting of former Soviet republics.

The US "is confident the Syrian regime conducted a chemical weapons attack, using the nerve agent sarin, against its own people", according to a four-page document published by Washington on Tuesday that contained evidence, including satellite images, reports from the scene and details of exposure gathered from victims.

Russia says Syrian forces struck a building where terrorists kept the internationally banned chemical. The US says it has images proving the bomb left a crater in a road rather than hitting a building.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse on Wednesday, Mr Assad insisted his forces had turned over all stockpiles of chemical weapons in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action.

The Syrian leader questioned whether the attack had in fact occurred, claiming that "fake videos" and "propaganda" were being used against his government. He also alleged that last week's chemical weapons attack was a fabrication to justify the US military strike.

His remarks were rejected by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault yesterday. "It's 100 per cent lies and propaganda," Mr Ayrault said during a visit to Beijing, mirroring language used by Mr Assad himself. "The reality is that more than 300,000 have died, 11 million people have been displaced or become refugees, tens of thousands have been placed in Syrian prisons and a country has been destroyed," Mr Ayrault said. "That is the reality. It is not a fantasy."

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2017, with the headline 'Evidence that Syria sarin gas attack was staged: Moscow'. Print Edition | Subscribe