14 Apr 2017

Syria chemical attack 'fabricated' - Assad

8:23 am on 14 April 2017

Syria's President Bashar-al Assad says reports of a chemical attack by his forces were "100 percent fabrication".

A handout picture released by the Syrian presidency's press office shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an interview with AFP in the capital Damascus, on April 12, 2017.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during an interview with AFP in the capital Damascus, on April 12. Photo: AFP / HO / SYRIAN PRESIDENCY PRESS OFFICE

In an exclusive video interview with AFP news agency, he said "there was no order to make any attack".

More than 80 people were killed in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April, and hundreds suffered symptoms consistent with a nerve agent.

Witnesses said they saw warplanes attack the town but Russia said a rebel depot of chemical munitions was hit.

Shocking footage showed victims - many of them children - convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Sufferers were taken to hospitals across the border in Turkey.

Mr Assad told AFP that the Syrian government had given up its chemical arsenal in 2013, adding "even if we have them, we wouldn't use them".

Since 2013, there have been continued allegations that chemicals such as chlorine and ammonia have been used against civilians, by both the Syrian government and rebel groups.

Turkey and the UK said tests showed Sarin or a Sarin-like substance was used in Khan Sheikhoun, which would be the first time since 2013 that a prohibited chemical had been used on such a scale.

Mr Assad accused the West of making up events in Khan Sheikhoun so it had an excuse to carry out missile strikes on the government's Shayrat airbase, which took place a few days after the alleged attack.

"It's stage one, the play [they staged] that we saw on social network and TVs, then propaganda and then stage two, the military attack," he said, questioning the authenticity of the video footage.

He also said Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria's north-western Idlib province, had no strategic value and was not currently a battle front. "This story is not convincing by any means," he told AFP.

On 4 April 2017 more than 100 civilians were killed and 500 others, mostly children, were injured. Photo taken 6 April.

Chemical gas attack survivors receive medical treatment at an hospital after the chlorine gas attack in the town of Khan Shaykun, Idlib province on 6 April. Photo: AFP

Western allies have said there is compelling evidence that the Syrian government was behind what happened in Khan Sheikhoun.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday it was "highly likely" the Assad regime was behind the attack.

"Apart from anything else, we believe it's the only regime that has the capability to make such an attack," she said.

Turkey, which treated many of the wounded, said it has "concrete evidence" Sarin was used.

The US, UK and France reacted angrily on Wednesday after Russia, Syria's key ally, vetoed a draft resolution at the UN Security Council - the eighth time it has done so over the Syrian conflict.

Mr Assad told AFP that he would only allow an "impartial" investigation, involving "unbiased countries... to make sure that they won't use it for politicised purposes".

A Tomahawk missile is launched from the USS Ross during a military strike on a Syrian airbase.

A Tomahawk missile is launched from the USS Ross during a military strike on a Syrian airbase. Photo: Supplied / US Navy

The US had, until its Shayrat attack, limited its involvement in Syria to removing Islamic State from its stronghold in the city of Raqqa.

The Pentagon admitted on Thursday that it accidentally killed 18 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces, its ally in the fight against IS, in an airstrike on Monday, just south of the town of Tabqa, some 40km from Raqqa.

More than 300,000 people have lost their lives and millions of people have been displaced since a peaceful uprising against Mr Assad six years ago turned into a full-scale civil war.

- BBC

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