PHOTO: Infant victim of regime chemical attack on Monday — did Russia divert attention from this with false “rebel toxic gases” claim?
However, the Russians made a critical mistake in their presentation:
Moscow informed Washington of the use of toxic shells on Monday, Lieutenant-General Sergey Chvarkov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center in Syria, said.
Syrian State news agency SANA indicated — and Russian State outlet RT’s story repeats — that the toxic attacks occurred on Tuesday, as part of “terrorist” shelling that killed seven people and wounded 25.
The difference in dates raises the question of how Russia could have told Washington about a chemical attack that had not yet occurred.
RT caused further confusion — perhaps deliberately — by mixing up the Aleppo claim with the Assad regime’s chlorine attack on Saraqeb in Idlib Province on Monday.
RT’s package headlines “two chemical attacks in Syria in the past few days” and puts up a map identifying both Aleppo and Saraqeb.
However, the report and interview with a correspondent never mentions that the Assad regime’s helicopters carried out the Saraqeb attack, leaving viewers with the impression that rebels were responsible.
The source footage for RT’s report from pro-Russian ANNA News, set to the score from the film Last of the Mohicans:
The Russians appear to have chosen Nour al-Din al-Zenki as the culprit because of the group’s connection earlier this month to the execution of a teenager north of Aleppo.
Fighters from the faction were filmed with a young man who had been captured amid fighting near Handarat, abusing and then beheading him. Pro-regime activists said the victim was a 13-year-old Palestinian boy; pro-rebel outlets said he was 19 and was a fighter with a pro-Assad militia. Rebels say that the fighters accused of the execution have been arrested and will be tried.
Nour al-Din al-Zenki was also named in an Amnesty International report last month for responsibility for a few of the 21 abuses — most attributed to Jabhat al-Nusra — documented by the organization.
Latest Propaganda Failure?
Russian and regime outlets regularly accuse rebel groups of shelling and bombing that kills civilians in the regime-held districts of Aleppo city.
However, documentation of the incidents is difficult because of the lack of independent journalists and activists in the area. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has put out one of the few reports collecting evidence, establishing the deaths of 65 civilians in western Aleppo city — as hundreds were killed in the opposition-controlled east — by rebel shelling in late April.
None of the deaths reported by SNHR were attributable to “toxic gases”.
In late April, Russia and the regime claimed that rebels had deliberately struck a hospital in western Aleppo city, killing three people, with rockets. The assertion came after weeks of reports of Russian-regime airstrikes destroying medical facilities, and days after an attack on the al-Quds Hospital in eastern Aleppo city which killed 55 staff, patients, and visitors.
However, dissection of the photographs and video used by Russia and the regime did not point to a rebel rocket as the cause of the explosion. Instead, it appeared to be a car bomb which was detonated, raising the question of a staged “false flag” attack by the regime to blame rebels and divert attention from the Russian-regime airstrikes.
Questioning the US
Those issues will not deter Russia, of course. Instead, Moscow is already putting out another propaganda message, claiming that rebels are preventing civilians from using “humanitarian corridors” — the existence of which is suspect — to leave eastern Aleppo city.
Meanwhile, RT is featuring its journalist’s questioning of State Department spokesman Mark Toner about the supposed “toxic gases” in western Aleppo city with the headline, “Are Chemical Attacks Enough for US to Pull Aid from ‘Moderate’ Rebels?”
And — even if close critique of the claims raises suspicions — Russia can claim success, at least in muddying the situation to divert attention from Russian-regime airstrikes. Instead of focusing on the Saraqeb incident on Wednesday, CNN put out the neutral “Reports of Chemical Gas Attacks in 2 Syrian Cities”.