A video clip emerged Tuesday of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani acknowledging that Iran’s ally Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people.
Reports that Rafsanjani, a key backer of current President Hasan Rouhani, made the astonishing accusation first surfaced on Sunday, but the comments were quickly removed by the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA). Iran is a staunch supporter of President Bashar Assad, and has threatened dire consequences for Israel, the US and others if President Barack Obama orders military intervention for Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons in a devastating attack on August 21.
“Over the past two years, the Syrian people have suffered greatly. Over 100,000 people have been killed, and there are eight million refugees, within and outside Syria. The prisons are crammed full and there is no more room, so they have seized a few stadiums to fill them up too,” said Rafsanjani in the clip, posted by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
“The Syrian people are experiencing harsh conditions. On the one hand, they are bombed with chemicals by their own government, and on the other hand, they can expect American bombs,” Rafsanjani continued.
The comments were made by Rafsanjani on August 29 and picked up by ILNA on Sunday.
But according to the the Daily Star Lebanon, ILNA quickly replaced the report with a version that no longer attributed the chemical attacks to the Syrian government.
Rafsanjani is a leading reformist seen as a relative moderate. Earlier in the year he registered to run for the country’s presidency, but was disqualified by the clerical regime.
In July this year the former president called for a change in Iranian foreign policy and criticized outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran has been one of Syria’s firmest backers, and has threatened to hit Israeli and US interests in response to a US-led attack on Syria. Tehran has maintained that the August 21 Damascus attack, in which the US says the Assad regime carefully planned the use of sarin gas and killed 1,429 people, was carried out by rebel forces and not the government.