Moscow denies Syrian regime used chemical weapons in Douma

Moscow denies Syrian regime used chemical weapons in Douma

Top official leading Russian efforts for reconciliation in civil war says Kremlin ready to send in analysts to collect data and prove claims ‘fabricated’

Smoke billows in the town of Douma, the last opposition holdout in Syria's Eastern Ghouta, on April 7, 2018. (AFP)
Smoke billows in the town of Douma, the last opposition holdout in Syria's Eastern Ghouta, on April 7, 2018. (AFP)

MOSCOW, Russia — Moscow on Sunday rejected claims the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on an opposition holdout in Eastern Ghouta, after the US said Russia bore ultimate responsibility for any attack.

“We firmly deny this information,” said Major General Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Sides in Syria, in comments reported by news agencies.

“We are ready, once Douma is freed from militants, to immediately send Russian specialists in radiation, chemical and biological defense to collect data that will confirm these claims are fabricated,” he added.

At least 80 civilians have been killed in Douma since Friday after the regime launched fresh air raids, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor.

The Observatory also reported that dozens of people had suffered breathing problems following the attacks, but could not identify the cause.

The White Helmets, who act as first responders in rebel-held areas of Syria, alleged that regime forces had used “poisonous chlorine gas” in the attacks.

Footage posted by the group online, which was not possible to verify, showed victims including children foaming at the mouth.

There were conflicting reports on the number of dead in the alleged gas attack, with the White Helmets reporting between 40 and 70 killed.

The United States had earlier on Sunday strongly condemned the alleged chemical weapons attack, saying that if it was proved, Russia would bear some responsibility due to its “unwavering support” for the regime.

“These reports, if confirmed, are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

“The Assad regime and its backers must be held accountable and any further attacks prevented immediately,” she added. “Russia, with its unwavering support for the regime, ultimately bears responsibility for these brutal attacks.”

Russia has been providing military and diplomatic support for the Damascus government as it battles to suppress an insurgency now in its eighth year.

The Syrian regime has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons, with the United Nations among those blaming government forces for a deadly sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun in April 2017.

Since February 18, the regime’s Ghouta offensive has killed more than 1,600 civilians.

The regime has used a combination of a fierce military onslaught and two negotiated withdrawals to empty out 95 percent of the enclave near Damascus, but rebels are still entrenched in Douma, its largest town.

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