In First Comments, Assad Claims Syria Chemical Attack '100 Percent Fabrication'

Syria's president says the army has given up all chemical weapons, AFP reports

Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks at the presidential palace in Damascus, Syria.
/AP

Syrian President Bashar Assad said an alleged chemical attack blamed on his regime last week in Idlib province was "100 percent fabrication" used to justify a U.S. airstrike, news agency AFP reported on Thursday.

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Assad said Syria's military had given up all its chemical weapons in 2013 after an agreement made at the time and that "even if we had them, we would not use them." He added that "we have never used our chemical arsenal in our history."

The Syrian leader told AFP that while Al-Qaida had been behind the assault, the U.S. blamed the incident on the Syrian military "to have a pretext for the attack," referring to Washington's cruise missile strike on a Syrian regime air base.

Assad claims the chemical attack in Idlib is a 'fabrication' Haaretz.com

The April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people, including children, and was the deadliest such incident since a sarin gas attack left hundreds dead in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus in 2013.

Samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun last week also tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, the British delegation at the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW said on Thursday. 

The United States and its allies said the Syrian military carried out the attack and responded by launching 59 cruise missiles at the air force base where the planes responsible for the assault had allegedly taken off.

A senior U.S. official said that Washington intercepted conversations between Syrian military personnel and chemical experts in which they prepared the gas attack in Idlib, CNN reported on Thursday.

While no intercepts were found confirming that the Kremlin spoke about the attack before it happened, the official reportedly said that Russia likely takes more measures than Syria to avoid being intercepted.

According to the report, the official underlined that the U.S. did not know in advance that the attack was going to take place. He said that the intercept was part of a review of U.S. intelligence following the assault to confirm responsibility for the use of chemical weapons. 

Damascus' ally Russia denied Syrian forces were behind the attack and claimed that the gas was part of rebel stockpiles, which the rebels have denied. On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to condemn the Idlib attack and push the Syrian government to cooperate with investigators. 

Later on Wednesday, the Syrian army said that an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition killed "hundreds" in Deir al-Zor province when it hit poison gas supplies belonging to ISIS, releasing a toxic substance. 

In a statement aired by Syrian state TV, the army said that the incident proved ISIS and Al-Qaida-linked militants "posses chemical weapons." 

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition later denied the claim, saying it had carried out no airstrikes in that area at that time.