The Syrian government on Tuesday denied it was planning another chemical weapons attack, an allegation made by the US on Monday, reported news agency AP. White House spokesperson Sean Spicer had said that the US government has ‘potential’ evidence to suggest Syrian President Bashar-al Assad is planning another attack and warned his military that it “will pay a heavy price” if it carries it out. The Syrian government, in response, said the statement foreshadowed a “diplomatic battle” that would be waged against Syria at the UN.
“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” spokesman Sean Spicer said in a statement. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017, chemical weapons attack,” he added.
Russia, which supports the Assad regime, came to its defence, denying responsibility for the attack in Idlib province on April 4. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov criticised the Trump administration for saying “another chemical weapons attack”, and argued that Russia had demanded an independent probe which was never conducted.
Read: U.S. says it appears Syria planning another chemical weapons attack. Click here.
It is suspected that sarin gas was used in the April 4 attack in the Islamic State-held town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib province, which killed nearly 100 people, including 11 children. Witnesses claimed Sukhoi Jets — operated by the Syrian and Russia governments — carried out the attack. The Syrian government, however, denied being involved in the attack. US President Donald Trump had called it ‘reprehensible’, and said it cannot be ignored by the civilised world. Trump later authorised a military strike on a Syrian airbase from where the chemical attack was launched. Six people were killed.
Trump also said, “There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behaviour have all failed and failed very dramatically.”
In response, Assad, in an interview, said, “Definitely, 100 per cent for us, it’s fabrication. 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.” Assad has been in power in Syria for 17 years.
Also read: Russia brands US warning to Syria over chemical weapons ‘unacceptable’. Click here.
Since the start of the war in 2011, the Syrian government has been faced with several allegations of using chemical weaponry. It has repeatedly denied this, despite the deaths of close to 31,000 people in the last six years.
In 2013, when Syria acquired membership to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), it claimed it gave up its rights to 1,300 tonnes of toxic weapons and industrial chemicals. However, OPCM investigators alleged Syria continued to use chlorine, reported Reuters. Chlorine is not banned, but its use is under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.
According to AP, chemical weaponry has been widespread in the civil war, with at least 45 alleged incidents by government and rebel forces since 2016 alone. Many of them reportedly involved chlorine.
(With inputs from agencies)