Russia: Syria chemical attack ‘fabrication by foreign power’
Sergey Lavrov renewed warnings against proposed military action by the West.
Russia’s foreign minister has said a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma last weekend was staged with the help of a foreign intelligence agency.
Sergey Lavrov did not specify which agency or provide evidence, but he warned the West against proposed military action.
The day before a team from the international chemical weapons watchdog was to arrive in Douma, east of Damascus, Mr Lavrov said Russian experts have inspected the site and found no trace of chemical weapons.
He added without elaboration that Moscow has “irrefutable information that it was another fabrication”.
The suspected poison attack by Syrian government forces that allegedly killed more than 40 people has drawn international outrage and prompted the US and its allies to consider a military response.
Moscow strongly warned against any strikes and threatened to retaliate.
As fears of a Russia-West military confrontation mounted, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “deep concerns” over the situation in Syria in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to a statement by the French presidency, Mr Macron called for dialogue between France and Russia to “continue and intensify” to bring peace and stability to Syria.
The Kremlin said Mr Putin warned against rushing to blame the Syrian government before conducting a “thorough and objective probe.”
The Russian leader warned against “ill-considered and dangerous actions … that would have consequences beyond conjecture”.
Mr Putin and Mr Macron instructed their foreign and defence ministers to maintain close contact to “de-escalate the situation”, the Kremlin said.
US President Donald Trump emerged from a meeting with his national security team on Thursday without a “final decision” on how to respond to the suspected chemical attack.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Mr Trump held a meeting with his team to discuss the situation, but “no final decision has been made”.
She said US officials are “continuing to assess intelligence” and are “engaged in conversations with our partners and allies”.
Russian officials alleged quickly after last Saturday’s suspected attack that the images of victims in Douma were fake.
The Foreign Ministry also claimed that following Syrian rebels’ withdrawal from the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, stockpiles of chemical agents were allegedly found there.
The ministry also pointed at previous use of chemicals by rebels in fighting with Syrian government troops.
Speaking to reporters in Moscow, Mr Lavrov reiterated a strong warning to the West against military action in Syria, saying it would increase flows of refugees into Europe.
“I hope no one would dare to launch such an adventure now,” Mr Lavrov said.
Russia has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and has helped turn the tide of war in his favour since entering the conflict in September 2015.
Syria’s civil war, which began as a popular uprising against Assad, is now in its eighth year.
A fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is expected to head to Douma. The Russian military and the Syrian government said they would facilitate the mission and ensure the inspectors’ security.