US accuses Russia of lying on Syria attack to undermine truce09 December 2018 AFP, Washington
A Syrian woman receives treatment at a hospital after an assault on Aleppo, which Russia claimed was a chemical attack by rebels.
The United States and Britain accused Russia on Friday of fabricating a story about chemical weapons use by Syrian rebels and warned Moscow against undermining a shaky truce.
Russia's defense ministry said rebels fired weapons containing chlorine on November 24 on the regime-held city of Aleppo, with Syrian state media reporting that around 100 Syrians were hospitalized for breathing difficulties.
Russia responded to the purported attack with air raids on Idlib, the latest major stronghold of rebels and jihadists battling President Bashar al-Assad, throwing into question a truce reached in mid-September. The United States said it had "credible information" that the chlorine account was false and that Russian and Syrian forces instead had fired tear gas.
"The United States is deeply concerned that pro-regime officials have maintained control of the attack site in its immediate aftermath, allowing them to potentially fabricate samples and contaminate the site before a proper investigation of it by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement. "We caution Russia and the regime against tampering with the suspected attack site and urge them to secure the safety of impartial, independent inspectors so that those responsible can be held accountable," he said. He said that Russia and Syria were "using it as an opportunity to undermine confidence in the ceasefire in Idlib."
In a similar statement, Britain said it was "highly unlikely" that chlorine or the opposition were involved in the incident.
"It is likely that this was either a staged incident intended to frame the opposition, or an operation which went wrong and from which Russia and the regime sought to take advantage," a Foreign Office spokesperson said, also backing an investigation by the OPCW, the international chemical weapons watchdog. Russia's embassy in Washington hit back on Facebook.
"The Russian Defense Ministry does not rule out that the US Department of State's allegations about the recent toxic chemicals attack in Syria's Aleppo are aimed at distracting the public attention from the crimes of the US aviation in the east of the Middle Eastern country," the post said.
Western powers, the United Nations and human rights groups have repeatedly pointed to chemical attacks by Assad's forces.
A Syrian gas attack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhun killed 83 people, according to the United Nations. US President Donald Trump replied by ordering 59 cruise missiles to strike a Syrian air base, a reversal from his predecessor Barack Obama's controversial reluctance to respond militarily.