The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has claimed that the allegations that his government deliberately poisoned civilians in the chemical gas incident that killed more than 80 people were ”100 per cent fabrication”. The president announced this on Thursday during an interview broadcast by AFP, whilst also adding that the Syrian government gave up its chemical weapons stocks as part of an agreement in 2013. He said, “Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack.”
Reports state that the majority of Western intelligence services believe that the deaths in the village of Khan Sheikhoun occurred after a deliberate attack that was carried out by the Syrian government. Damascus and allies in Moscow have denied that the regime attacked the village with chemical weapons, instead stating that the casualties were caused by “gases released after an al-Qaeda-affiliated ammunitions depot was hit by conventional munitions in a legitimate government air raid”. So far, there has been no evidence to support these claims. Assad has commented, “how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now. We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun. Were they dead at all? …The story is not convincing by any means.”
Following the deaths of hundreds in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus in 2013, the Syrian government agreed to surrender its chemical weapons stocks to an international watchdog. However, the opposition has accused the regime of not giving over its entire supply. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has claimed that Assad’s government is responsible for at least two chemical weapons attacks that have occurred in Syria since then, although the president denies this.
Last Friday, President Donald Trump responded with a “warning shot” barrage of 59 Tomahawk missiles, which struck the regime-operated Shayrat airbase near Homs. This was the first direct action taken against Assad’s forces taken by the US in more than six years of the civil war. Reports claim that Russian forces that were at the base were given a warning of the strike that was to come, meaning that less damage occurred. However, six Syrian servicemen were reported as dead in the incident. Following this, Russia’s representative to the United Nations recommended an immediate international investigation on Wednesday, calling on the Syrian government to provide flight plans, flight logs and other operational military information from the day of the strike. Assad added “When we make sure that unbiased countries will participate in this delegation in order to make sure that they won’t use it for politicised purposes.”
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