Britain was behind Syrian ‘chemical attack’, Russia claims
Military chiefs in Moscow say the UK used humanitarian volunteers to stage the ‘provocation’.
Russia has evidence that Britain had “direct involvement” in staging the suspected chemical attack in Syria, its military chiefs have claimed.
Humanitarian volunteers were “seriously pressured” by the UK to speed up plans for a “provocation” in Eastern Ghouta, according to the federation’s defence ministry.
Britain’s UN ambassador Karen Pierce told reporters following an emergency meeting of the Security Council the suggestion was “grotesque” and a “blatant lie”.
It comes as Russia and the United States traded fresh blows as the latest round of talks at the UN Security Council.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of “waiting for instructions” from President Donald Trump on how to proceed as he left open the possibility that Bashar Assad’s regime was not responsible for the attack.
According to RT, Russia’s state broadcaster, a Russian Defence Ministry spokesman accused London of directing the assault on Douma.
Major-General Igor Konashenkov is reported to have said: “The Russian Defence Ministry also has evidence that Britain had a direct involvement in arranging this provocation in Eastern Ghouta.”
He added: “We know for certain that between April 3 and April 6 the so-called White Helmets were seriously pressured from London to speed up the provocation that they were preparing.”
The Douma attack has drawn international outrage which has seen Theresa May and Mr Trump agree that the use of chemical weapons must not go unchallenged after the Prime Minister won the backing of her Cabinet for action to prevent their further use in Syria.
Further UK military intervention in Syria's appalling multi-sided war risks escalating an already devastating conflict.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) April 13, 2018
My full statement: https://t.co/wWpxxk8eYI
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Russian experts have inspected the site of the alleged attack in Douma, just east of Damascus, and found no trace of chemical weapons.
He said Moscow has “irrefutable information that it was another fabrication”.
Russia’s ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko said The White Helmets, a group of humanitarian volunteers, are supported by the British Government and are “famous for staging fake chemical attacks”.
He told a London press conference: “The Syrian government had been repeatedly warning for at least a month that rebels prepared to stage a provocation with chemical weapons in this very area.”
Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2018
At the UN Security Council, Russian ambassador Vasily Nebenzya said there was “no credible confirmation” of a chemical attack and accused intelligence agencies of directing the attack.
He said: “Our specialists found no traces of toxic substance use. We have information to believe that what took place was a provocation with the participation of certain countries’ intelligence services.”
He said the sole interest of the UK, US and France was to “oust” the Syrian government and “contain” the Russian Federation.
US ambassador Nikki Haley said: “It is Russia alone that has stopped at nothing to defend the Syrian regime’s multiple uses of chemical weapons. It is Russia alone that used its veto 12 times to protect the Assad regime.”
She added: “Russia can complain all it wants about fake news but no-one is buying its lies and its cover-ups.”
UK ambassador Karen Pierce said: “It is Russia’s own actions that have led to this situation. We will not sacrifice the international order that we have collectively to the Russian desire to protect its ally at all costs.”
Mrs May and the US president discussed the situation on Thursday night, saying there was a need “to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime”, as they pledged to work together on the international response to the suspected chemical weapons attack.
Ministers have said it is “highly likely” Assad’s regime was responsible for the attack on Saturday on the rebel-held town of Douma which reportedly left dozens dead and that there was agreement around the Cabinet table that such actions should not go “unchallenged”.
Mr Corbyn said there must be an inquiry to find out who was responsible.
He told Sky News: “If there is proof the regime did it, then the regime must be held responsible. If there is proof that anybody else did it, they must be held responsible.”
Asked if there were circumstances in which he would back military action, he replied: “Let’s cross that bridge when we get there. My position is let’s do everything we can to stop the war at the present time.
“An escalation of the war is in nobody’s interests.”
The largest US air and naval strike force since the 2003 Iraq war was said to be heading towards Syria, according to reports in The Times, paving the way for strikes within the next three days.
A statement released by Downing Street after Thursday’s Cabinet meeting made no direct reference to military action, but will be seen as a signal Britain would be prepared to join any US-led air strikes against the regime should the Americans decide to go ahead – putting it on a potential collision course with Assad’s principal backer Russia.
Mr Trump appeared to row back from a suggestion on Wednesday that missile strikes were imminent, insisting in his latest tweet that he had never set out a timetable for military action.
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” he wrote.
US broadcaster NBC quoted US officials familiar with the intelligence as saying they had now obtained blood and urine samples which had tested positive for chemical weapons.
It is vital that parliament has the chance to debate and decide in advance on any government proposals to support a new US-led military intervention in Syria, which risks a dangerous escalation of the conflict.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) April 12, 2018
That assessment appeared to echo French President Emmanuel Macron, who said France had “proof” that “at least chlorine” was used in the attack by the regime.
A team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is due to start its investigation in Syria on Saturday.