Photograph from Syrian State outlet SANA of a mortar allegedly fired by rebels on Aleppo city, November 24, 2018

Russian officials are scrambling for cover over their claim of a “terrorist chemical attack” on regime-held Aleppo city, three days after launching the campaign.

On Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry and Assad regime declared that rebels had fired mortars with chlorine on Aleppo. They supported the assertion with video and photos of civilians with breathing difficulties, although none showed symptoms specific to inhalation of chlorine.

Russian State media initially said 12 people were killed, but later withdrew the headline and replaced it with more than 100 wounded. Syrian State outlets soon said that all those treated had been released from hospital.

The incident came amid exchanges of artillery fire between rebels and pro-Assad forces after the latter’s attacks on Jarjanaz in Idlib. Rebel officers said their forces do not possess “poisonous gases” or the capabilities to fire them into regime areas. Pro-rebel outlets claimed that it was Iranian forces who fired 120mm mortar rounds into Aleppo.

Syria Daily, Nov 25: Regime Claims “Chemical Attack” on Aleppo City

Damascus pushed the line of “facilitating terrorists’ access to chemical substances by some states”, and the Russian Defense Ministry said specialist inspectors were on the scene. However, the only photos released so far of mortar remnants point to explosive charges for conventional weapons, rather than the non-explosive charge for a canister with chlorine.

With no physical evidence to provide so far, Russian State outlet RT has now retreated to a headline of “alleged chemical attack”, while falsely claiming “Western media is silent”.

To back up its narrative, RT used a falsehood from former InfoWars editor Patrick Henningsen, “They don’t care, because the attack is coming from the wrong side, as it were. If you check the mainstream media coverage globally, it’s a non-event.”

In fact, leading press and broadcasters such as Reuters, the Associated Press, the BBC, CNN, and the Guardian reported the Russian-regime claims with little scepticism.

OPCW to Investigate

The Assad regime raised the stakes by asking the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — inspectors who have been restricted by Russia and Damascus from investigating suspected regime chemical attacks since 2013 — to go to Aleppo.

OPCW head Fernando Arias said he has asked the UN security department whether it is safe to deploy a team.

A UN official in Geneva said UN war crimes investigators are already collecting information and asking sources for evidence: “Once they have something concrete and credible that meets their standard of proof, they will be able to report publicly.”

The UN panel has attributed 33 chemical attacks to the Assad regime since 2013, with six others linked to the Islamic State or left open.

The OPCW has found the Assad regime culpable for several sarin and chlorine attacks. But after it attributed an April 2017 sarin assault in northwest Syria to the regime — with about 90 people killed and hundreds wounded —Russia vetoed an extension of the organization’s mandate to attribute responsibility.

In June, the UN General Assembly restored the authority of the OPCW to determine culpability.

The organization is currently investigating a suspected Assad regime chlorine attack in April 2018 on Douma near Damascus, which reportedly killed about 50 people. The assault led to the surrender of the opposition in its final area near the Syrian capital.

Russia, the regime, and their supporters have regularly put out unsupported assertions of preparations by “terrorists” and White Helmets rescuers for chemical attacks.