Allegations that the Syrian government has been deploying toxic chemicals are false, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Friday. Moscow says that it has evidence to the contrary, adding that such claims could be a pretext for intervention.
The statement was made shortly after opposition reports of
chlorine gas attacks emerged. Rebel sources have released
photographs and video of what they claim to be assaults by the
Syrian government over the past month that share the
characteristics of a chlorine attack.
“Accusations against government forces of supposed cases of the use of poisonous chemicals continue to be fabricated,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “According to reliable evidence the Russian side possesses, such allegations do not correspond to reality.”
The statement added that a further anti-Syrian chemical hysteria “makes one wonder” about the true intent of its initiators – initiators “who do not abandon attempts to find a pretext for military intervention in Syria.”
However, the Russian FM noted that the allegations over chlorine deployment were taking place in an environment in which “the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) states that the process of chemical demilitarization in Syria is progressing well, and the export of toxic chemical components can be finished in a reasonable time frame.”
The OPCW declared on Thursday that the total amount of weapons removed from Syria is 92.5 percent of its declared stockpiles.
On Wednesday, AP released a report detailing chlorine gas attacks on rebel-held areas over the past few weeks and months using evidence provided by opposition activists, medics and residents.
The agency’s witnesses reported dozens of cases of people fainting and complications stemming from fume inhalation, with some reporting that the fumes had a yellow-tinged and had a chlorinated smell.
The UN Security Council (UNSC) called for an investigation into the allegations Wednesday, with some members expressing “grave concern,” according to the April UNSC Council President, Joy Ogwu (Ambassador for Nigeria).
On April 13, Syrian State TV reported of chemical attacks in the country, blaming members of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front for using chlorine gas in an attack on the Syrian village of Kfar Zeita, about 200 km north of Damascus-, that killed at least two people and injured more than 100.
Earlier the same day, videos showing a field hospital in Kfar Zeita – which is on the frontline of intense fighting – were uploaded by opposition activists. The pictures showed obviously weakened civilians, including small children, breathing through oxygen masks, as medical personnel attended to them.
“Regime planes bombed Kfar Zeita with explosive barrels that produced thick smoke and odors and led to cases of suffocation and poisoning,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an outside non-profit organization.
Earlier in April, Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari warned the Security Council that armed gangs in Syria were conspiring to stage a chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs in order to later lay the blame on the Bashar Assad’s government.
In August 2013, a chemical attack on a neighborhood in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, left 1,400 civilians dead. The tragedy led to a Russian- brokered disarmament agreement that saw the Assad government give up its chemical weapons.
The destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal has encountered some hitches. At the beginning of March, Syrian convoys transporting chemical weapons under the international agreement were attacked twice the previous month, according to a UN report, causing a delay in chemical shipments out to sea.
Despite these, Syria is making sincere progress, according to the OCPW.
“We’ve always enjoyed constructive cooperation with the authorities, significant investments have been made - of time, effort, technical level, the political level…I think we’ve seen very steady progress thanks to the very good collaboration and ultimately also the government taking this program of chemical weapons elimination seriously,” Sigrid Kaag, Special Coordinator with the OCPW told RT.
“Syria is a country at war; the security situation is very volatile, precarious, and it shifts all the time,” she said.
Kaag noted that while steps still need to be taken, ensuring safety is also an issue. “Success can only be measured when you reach the full 100 percent – I hope, and…we encourage the authorities to do this within the shortest possible amount of time, knowing that 27th April is on Sunday – an internal deadline set by the authorities, but understanding that security remains always a challenge,” she stated.