Friday, 23 February, 2018

Syria's Assad says chemical attack '100 per cent fabrication'

Lance Thomas | 16 April, 2017, 02:00

The attack, which USA officials believe took place with the knowledge of high-ranking Syrian government officials, prompted Trump to launch the US military's first direct assault on an Assad-linked target since Syria's war began six years ago.

In recent days, Assad and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have claimed the attack was staged by the U.S.as pretext for last week's missile attack. Assad said he gave up his "arsenal" of chemical weapons up.

It was the first direct USA military action against Assad's forces since the start of Syria's civil war six years ago and led to a quick downward spiral in ties between Washington and Moscow.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, which include Arab fighters, say they are working to clear Islamic State militants out of the Jalab Valley, north of Raqqa, a city held by the extremists with an estimated population of 300,000.

Syria "continues to possess and use chemical weapons".

Moscow has warned against putting the blame on Damascus until an independent inquiry is conducted and vetoed a proposed United Nations resolution on the attack, saying it failed to mention the need to inspect the affected area. He made the comments in an exclusive interview with the AFP news agency.

The British delegation to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said United Kingdom scientists have tested samples from Khan Sheikhun and the samples "tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, or a sarin-like substance".

The US State Department said Thursday that it amounted to a "war crime".

Syrian officials previously acknowledged they'd launched an attack on April 4 east of Khan Sheikhoun, but denied using chemical weapons.

"We weren't able to get sufficient guarantees to send our team in", OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan said in 2013.

"Even if we have them, we wouldn't use them, and we have never used our chemical arsenal in our history".

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson received a frosty reception Wednesday on a visit to Moscow, where he said there was "a low level of trust" between the countries.

"We may be at an all-time low in terms of our relationship with Russia", Trump said Wednesday at a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation news conference after Tillerson met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During this discussion, "Western colleagues clearly tried to prevent any steps that could help establish the truth about what had happened", the Russian foreign minister said.

Since civil war in Syria erupted in March 2011, more than 250,000 people have been killed, according to the UN.

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