From “false flag” operation to a regime bombing of a rebel warehouse to “total fabrication” — Russia and Assad regime’s variety of unsupported explanation over last week’s chemical attack in northwest Syria
- Removals Begin in Syria’s “4 Towns” Agreement
Podcast: Assessing US-Russia Relations — An “All-Time Low”?
UPDATE 1300 GMT: In Moscow to confer with Russian and Iranian counterparts, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says the Assad regime will not agree to an investigation of last week’s chemical attack because it will “only serve US interests”.
The rejection of an inquiry by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons undercuts the public line of Russia and Iran calling for an independent investigation.
The three Foreign Ministers put out a unified line denouncing last Friday’s US missile strikes on the Assad regime airbase from which the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun was launched.
Al-Muallem said, “I’m grateful to my friends in Iran and in Russia for the support.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said, “Today we once again confirmed that unilateral steps are unacceptable and international investigation needs to be conducted to establish the facts,” despite Russia’s veto of a Security Council for an inquiry and al-Muallem’s rejection.
Zarif tried to shift the blame to Washingotn, “Unfortunately, the US undertook a military aggression against Syria before investigating the (Khan Sheikhoun) incident. This indicates, above all, that the US does not want the use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun to be established by the world community. They wanted to use this bitter incident in their internal political events.”
Lavrov said the US missile strikes were “aggressive actions…obviously aimed at undermining the peace process, which was unanimously approved by a resolution of the UN Security Council and stipulates that only the people of Syria will be determining the future of their country”.
The Foreign Minister tried to explain away the Russian veto in the UN, “Another strange thing about this story. The US began demanding full access not only to al-Shayrat airfield but to other facilities as well, for some reason.”
In fact, the draft resolution called on the Assad regime to cooperate with the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, not Washington, but Lavrov persisted, “Such inconsistencies make us confident that there is something shady about the whole affair.”
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Russia and the Assad regime put out a series of unsupported, contradictory explanations on Thursday to try and cover up the regime’s responsibility for last week’s chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province in northwest Syria.
A Su-22 jet fighter fired a missile with a chemical munition — likely a hybrid of nerve agent and chlorine — on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, killing at least 87 people and wounding almost 600. Agencies in the US, UK, and Turkey have cited signals and geospatial intelligence, including radar tracking the warplane and satellite imagery of the site; physiological samples from the victims; and the body of open source evidence, including videos, photographs, and accounts from victims, witnesses, medical staff, and first responders.
On Thursday, British agencies added their conclusion that the chemical was sarin, also used in the Assad regime’s attacks near Damascus that killed more than 1,400 people in August 2013. A “senior US official” said that the American military and intelligence community intercepted communications among the Assad regime’s military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the attack.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a day after his meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, persisted on Thursday in saying that the evidence was “unfounded”. He tried to justify Russia’s veto of a UN Security Council resolution which would have required the Assad regime to co-operate with an independent inquiry into the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province while maintaining, “We will insist that a decision be made on conducting an impartial investigation both at the attack site and the air base.”
Lavrov said the US missile strike on the Shayrat airbase, from where the Assad regime launched the chemical , was “a provocation” and claimed “the US Secretary of State and I thoroughly discussed the situation and agreed that this should not happen again”.
Russia has given varying explanations to divert attention from Assad. Last week, Moscow insisted that the regime warplane had hit a rebel warehouse with chemical stocks. But President Vladimir Putin is now indicating that the incident was a “false flag” attack in which rebels set off a chemical munition. Both Putin and the Defense Ministry reinforced this by declaring that rebels were moving chemicals near Khan Sheikhoun, in Aleppo Province, and near Damascus in preparation for another episode to be blamed on the regime.
President Assad added his summary in an interview published on Thursday, but proceeded to contradict the Russians as he denied responsibility. He said that there was no chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun at all, calling it a “fabrication”. He explained that all the evidence came “from Al Qa’eda”, that all the videos were “fake”, and that “we don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun”.
The Syrian army tried yet another dramatic diversion, with an implication returning to the Russian claim of a destroyed rebel warehouse with chemicals. It said that the US-led coalition had struck an Islamic State depot near Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, releasing a cloud of chemicals that killed “hundreds” by “poisoning”.
Despite the Russian veto on the UN resolution calling for the Assad regime’s cooperation with an investigation, a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Turkey on Thursday to assess evidence, including biometrics from the victims.
Meanwhile, the regime and Russia continue their intensive conventional bombing on opposition areas, including the use of incendiary munitions. Footage of a Russian incendiary attack on Daret Izza in western Aleppo Province:
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) April 13, 2017
TOP PHOTO: Victims in the street in Khan Sheikhoun, April 4, 2017
White Helmets Rescuer Killed in Daraa
White Helmets volunteer Obada Akrad was killed on Friday while carrying out rescues in Daraa city.
Daraa has been bombed intensively by the regime in an attempt to hold back a rebel advance in the Manshiyah district.
About 180 White Helmets rescuers have been killed since the organization was created in 2013.