Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Assad denies sarin nerve gas attack

President of Syria, Bashar Assad denies his regime orchestrated a chemcial attack that killed hundreds of people

Syrian president Bashar Assad said a United Nations report finding "clear and convincing evidence" that sarin nerve gas was used in Syria painted an "unrealistic" account, and he denied his government orchestrated the attack.

In an interview with Fox News Channel conducted in the Syrian capital of Damascus and aired on Wednesday, Assad said terrorists were to blame for the chemical attack, which the US says killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children. He said evidence that terrorist groups have used sarin gas has been turned over to Russia and that Russia, through one of its satellites, has evidence that the rockets in the August 21 attack were launched from another area.

While the US report did not lay blame, many experts interpreting the report said all indications were that the attack was conducted by Assad forces. U.S., Britain and France jumped on evidence in the report - especially the type of rockets, the composition of the sarin agent, and trajectory of the missiles - to declare that Assad's government was responsible.

"The whole story doesn't even hold together," Assad said. "It's not realistic. ... We didn't use any chemical weapons in Ghouta," a Damascus suburb.

Assad said his government would abide by an agreement reached with US and Russian officials to give up his chemical weapons. He says he has received estimates that destroying the stockpiles would cost one billion dollars and would take roughly a year.

"We didn't say that we are joining partially. ... We joined fully. We sent the letter. We sent the document. And we are committed to the full requirement of this agreement."

He said Syria was ready to talk to experts about the technical aspects of what he said would be a complicated task. He said Syria was ready to provide a list of weapons and provide experts access to the sites. "We can do it tomorrow," he said. "It's not about will," Assad added. "It's about technique." While he said the August 21 attack was "despicable" and "a crime," he argued that no one had verified the credibility of videos or pictures of the victims.

Meanwhile 19 people were reported killed on Thursday when a roadside bomb targeted a bus in Homs province. It was not immediately clear why the bus was targeted.

Al-Qaida-linked gunmen have captured a Syrian town near the Turkish border after heavy fighting with a rebel group, an activist group said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) stormed the town of Azaz, forcing members of the Northern Storm Brigade to withdraw. Three rebels and two jihadis were killed in the fighting.

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