With global sentiment turning against Syria again, and even president Trump yesterday saying his opinion on Syrian policy has changed (it was not immediately clear just how), on Thursday Syria’s foreign minister dismissed allegations that the Syrian Army deployed chemical weapons in the city of Idlib, saying the military will never use such weapons against its own people or even terrorists.
As reported by AP, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem denied claims that the military used chemical weapons in the western city of Idlib. Speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Muallem said an airstrike by Syrian military had targeted an arms depot where chemical weapons stockpiles were stored by Islamic State and Al-Nusra Front militants. He said it’s impossible that the army – which has been making significant gains in almost all theaters of the Syrian war – would use banned chemical weapons against its “own people” and even terrorists.
Asked if Damascus would allow a fact-finding mission into the Idlib incident, Muallem said past experience of similar investigations was “not encouraging.” He also said that he could not predict “the reality of US intentions” in Syria. Muallem added that such a mission must not be politicized and must start its operations “from Damascus, not Turkey,” apparently referring to the latest statements by Ankara condemning the incident, as well as the fact that some victims were taken to Turkey for autopsy.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Thursday called the attack in Syria's Idlib province earlier this week a "monstrous crime," but said Washington's conclusions about the incident were not based on objective data.
"This was a dangerous and monstrous crime, but it would be incorrect to hang labels (to identify those who did it)," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. The use of chemical weapons was "unacceptable," he said, urging the Syrian army to ensure such arms did not fall into the hands of terrorists.
Peskov said evidence about the incident provided by the White Helmets civil defense group could not be considered reliable and added: "We do not agree with these conclusions."
"Immediately after the tragedy no one had access to this region ... any data which the U.S. side or our colleagues from other countries might have had access to could not have been based on objective facts," Peskov told reporters. The disagreement was unlikely to change the nature of ties between Russia and the United States, Peskov added.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said earlier on Thursday it was too early to accuse the Syrian government of being responsible for the attack in Idlib and said a proper investigation was needed, the RIA news agency reported.
“Immediately after the tragedy no one had access to this area, so no one could have hard verifiable data. Consequently, any information which the US side or our colleagues from other countries might have had access to, could not be based on objective facts,” Peskov told reporters.
Though Peskov rejected “hasty assessments” of the alleged use of chemical weapons, he emphasized that there are always disagreements between Moscow and Washington, but mutual discords over the Idlib incident are unlikely to affect “the spirit of our cooperation.”
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Also on Thursday, the WSJ reported that autopsy results of three victims of the gas attack in Syria show evidence their deaths were linked to chemical weapons, according to Turkey’s justice minister. Specialists from the World Heath Organization and the United Nations joined Turkish forensics teams in an examination of three Syrians who died after being brought to Turkey for treatment following the attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province this week.
After the attack, Turkey joined an immediate international emergency response. Dozens of injured Syrians were brought by ambulance to Turkish medical facilities close to the Syrian border. The autopsies took place in the city of Adana. It was not immediately clear why Turkey - which has had a clear conflict of interest in the Syria conflict and has repeatedly stated its desire to remove the Assad administration - had been tasked with this fact-ficning mission.
Biological samples from the victims were taken during autopsies that started late Wednesday and continued until Thursday morning, according to the Turkish state Anadolu news agency. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag didn’t immediately provide further details on the results or what chemical substance was allegedly used.
Bozdag told Anadolu that the teams are continuing to examine the samples, but his view is the evidence shows forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were behind the attack.
“The autopsies’ results establish that chemical weapons were used. The forensic report presents this in a very clear way,” Anadolu quoted Mr. Bozdag as saying, adding that “Assad’s use of chemical weapons is established through this scientific examination."
The Syrian army has denied using any chemical or toxic substances in air strikes launched Tuesday, according to state media, and blamed “terrorist groups and those behind them.” The Syrian government routinely refers to most opponents of the regime as terrorists.
In any case, the results from Turkish autopsies on the victims of a suspected poison gas attack in northwest Syria will be sent to the Dutch capital of The Hague for an additional examination, Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdag said on Thursday. The suspected chemical attack believed to have been carried out by Syrian government forces killed at least 70 people in the rebel-held Idlib province on Tuesday. Thirty-two victims have been brought to Turkey and three have subsequently died during treatment.
That said, while the presence of sarin gas will almost surely be confirmed, the question remains how the west will prove whose sarin gas it was, although since like in 2013 the "chemical attack" appears to have been a goalseeked event intended to result in a goalseeked outcome, namely to get the US involved in the Syria conflict once again with the intent of removing Assad, we have little doubt that the narrative of Assad - who had little to gain and everything to lose from the alleged gas release - being behind the attack will hardly be challenged in the legacy press.