Russia has said it is ready to provide inspectors with access to a Syrian airbase that the opponents of the Syrian government say was used to carry out a “chemical attack.”
At least 86 people died in the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria last week in what was claimed to be a chemical attack conducted by the Syrian government. Damascus has denied the accusation, saying that a chemical weapons depot held by militants opposed to the government had been hit in a conventional Syrian airstrike.
But Western countries have been insisting that Damascus was behind the attack, with the United States naming a particular Syrian airbase as the launch pad for the alleged gas attack. The US military launched missiles against that base — the Shayrat airfield in Syria’s Homs Province — on Friday, saying the strikes were carried out in retaliation for the April 5 “chemical attack.”
Russia, which has been carrying out an aerial bombing campaign in Syria on behalf of Damascus, has denied that any chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government.
Iran, another Syrian ally, has proposed that an impartial investigation be launched into the accusations.
On Tuesday, Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff’s Operations Department, said Russia would grant access to international inspectors to the airfield.
“Experts are aware that it is impossible to conceal the traces of chemical weapons,” Colonel General Rudskoy said.
He said the Syrian government, too, was ready to grant access to experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the army base.
The Russian military official also said the Syrian government was not in possession of any chemical weapons. He said anti-Damascus militants were suffering one defeat after another and were on the run in the territories they had occupied.
“Under such circumstances, the government of [Syrian President] Bashar Assad has no need to use chemical weapons. Moreover, the Syrian army does not have any,” he said.
Colonel General Rudskoy said claims that the Assad government was behind a chemical attack were “highly questionable.”
In 2013, Russia brokered a deal with the US to have the Syrian government’s chemical arsenal turned over in return for a reversal of US plans to attack Syria back then. The task to remove Syrian chemical arms was carried out by the OPCW.
Rudskoy said under that deal, the Syrian government fully destroyed all of the chemical weapons it had access to.
“Out of 12 facilities used for storing and producing chemical weapons, ten were destroyed as confirmed by the OPCW experts. The Syrian government has no access to the remaining two facilities as they are located on a territory controlled by the so-called opposition,” the Russian official said.
He said it remained unclear whether the chemical arms stored at those two facilities had been destroyed.
- US chemical attack claims against Syria like 2003 Iraq war plot: Putin
- Mark Putin’s ‘explosive’ revelation on US Syria raid, analyst says
“No facts confirming production or possession of chemical agents [by the Syrian government] were found,” Rudskoy emphasized, adding that “Syria has no chemical weapons” and this fact was “documented and confirmed by the OPCW representatives.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the attack on Khan Shaykhun as a “false flag” operation aimed at undermining the Syrian government and warned of a threat of similar incidents in the future, possibly targeting a Damascus suburb.
Controversial draft resolution at UNSC
Meanwhile, a draft resolution has been proposed by Britain, France, and the US to be forwarded to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), calling for a probe into the “chemical attack” in Syria.
A vote on the draft resolution is expected at 1900 GMT on Wednesday.
According to AFP, the draft resolution expresses “horror” at the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun and condemns the alleged April 4 attack.
The draft also calls on the Syrian government to provide a range of potentially confidential military information, including flight logs and similar military information regarding operations on April 4. It also demands the names of military commanders involved in operations on that day.
The text also calls on Syria to provide access to air bases to UN investigators.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has apologized for comparing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
While intensifying his criticism of the Syrian leader during a press briefing on Tuesday, Spicer suggested that President Assad was guilty of acts worse than Hitler’s atrocities and asserted that the former chancellor of Germany had not used chemical weapons during World War II.
“You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” the White House spokesman said, ignoring the use of gas chambers at concentration camps during the Holocaust.
The generally accepted position asserts that six million European Jews were killed by the Nazis and their World War II collaborators, but some revisionist historians dispute the six million figure, insisting it is massively exaggerated.
Spicer’s comments drew an intense backlash from Jewish circles in the United States and some even demanded his resignation.
A few hours later, a subdued Spicer appeared on CNN and apologized for comparing the Syrian leader with Hitler.
“Frankly, I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive comment about the Holocaust and there is no comparison,” he stated.
“For that I apologize. It was a mistake to do that,” he added.
Secretary Spicer’s apology quite clearly seems to be directed at appeasing his Jewish critics rather than at correcting his unsubstantiated allegations against President Assad, who has been facing a US-led proxy war against his government since 2011.
In recent months, the Syrian army, backed by the Russian air power, has been making major gains against foreign-sponsored terrorist groups, recapturing several strategic areas from their grip, particularly in the strategic northern province of Aleppo.
Two US Navy destroyers fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the Mediterranean Sea at al-Shayrat airbase in Homs province in western Syria on April 7.
US President Donald Trump said he had ordered the strike in response to the April 4 chemical attack in the Arab country that he blamed on the Syrian government.
The US military claimed the airfield targeted was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian aircraft notwithstanding that Damascus volunteered to destroy its chemical stockpile in 2014 following an agreement which was brokered by the US and Russia.