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Putin ‘Convinced’ Damascus not Behind April Chemical Attack

by AFP

Alexei Nikolsky-Ria Novosti—AFP

Russian president says there is no proof Syria’s Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against civilians

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an interview published on Tuesday, said he was “convinced” the Syrian government was not behind an alleged chemical attack in the country last month that killed dozens.

In an interview with the online news feed of the conservative French daily Le Figaro, Putin added that he agreed with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that use of chemical weapons was a “red line.”

“According to our information, there is no proof of the use of chemical weapons by [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad,” he said. “We are convinced he did not do so,” Putin told Figaro Live, a day after meeting with Macron in Versailles.

Several Western countries including France have accused Assad’s government of carrying out the April 4 attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun that was reported to have killed 88 people, including 31 children. U.S. President Donald Trump ordered airstrikes three days later on the Syrian air base from where Washington believes the attack was launched.

In an interview with AFP late last month, Assad, a longstanding Moscow ally, dismissed the allegation as “100-percent fabrication.”

Asked about Macron’s assertion that use of chemical weapons in Syria would be considered a “red line,” Putin replied, “I agree.” Macron had also said Monday that France would respond immediately to any use of these arms.

The Russian leader added that Macron had agreed with him that “this issue should be placed in a wider context.” He said the international community should “establish a joint policy” to address the use of chemical weapons by “anyone, any force… and make a response that would render the use of chemical weapons simply impossible.”

A report by French intelligence services said the April 4 attack bore the “signature” of the Syrian government, accusing it of possessing chemical weapons in violation of commitments made in 2013.

Since the start of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, Damascus has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons. A 2013 attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta that left hundreds dead crossed a “red line” drawn by then U.S. president Barack Obama. The massacre led to an international accord under which Assad agreed to hand over Syria’s entire chemical weapons arsenal.

But since then, dozens of other attacks have been recorded, though responsibility has often been difficult to assess.

Last week an official at U.N. headquarters in New York said the U.N. was working to obtain security assurances needed to dispatch an international team of experts to Khan Sheikhun. Russia has criticized the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for not sending experts to the site, instead analyzing samples gathered from “various sources.”

The Russian defense ministry said Syria’s military has said it is ready to halt fire around the site if experts are sent in to conduct a probe.

Last year reports by U.N. and OPCW investigators concluded that Damascus had carried out three chlorine attacks and that the jihadist Islamic State group was behind a mustard gas attack.

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