Russia: Specialists find no trace of chemical attack in Syria

China backs probe into suspected Douma strike widely attributed to Assad regime; UK urges ‘strong’ response

Medical workers treating toddlers following an alleged poison gas attack in the opposition-held town of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, April. 8, 2018 (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)
Medical workers treating toddlers following an alleged poison gas attack in the opposition-held town of Douma, in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, Syria, April. 8, 2018 (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Monday that Russian specialists had found no trace of a chemical attack on the Syrian rebel-held town of Douma, after the international community accused the Bashar Assad regime of targeting civilians with gas there.

“Our military specialists have visited this place… and they did not find any trace of chlorine or any other chemical substance used against civilians,” he said.

He also said that a deadly strike on a Syrian airbase overnight, which Damascus and Moscow have blamed on Israel, was a “very dangerous development.”

“I hope at least that the US military and those of the countries participating in the coalition led by the United States understand that,” Lavrov told a press conference.

Earlier Monday, China said it supported an investigation into the suspected chemical attack, which has provoked global outrage.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks in Moscow on April 2, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Yuri KADOBNOV)

“We resolutely oppose the use of chemical weapons by any country, any organisation, any person, for any reason, under any circumstances,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters during a regular press briefing.

“China supports conducting a comprehensive, objective and just investigation into the relevant incident, whose results can stand the tests of history and an examination of the facts, and will bring the responsible party to justice under the law,” he said.

Geng said the UN Security Council and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should continue their role as the “main channel” for dealing with the problem.

China is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

This image released early Sunday, April 8, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, shows a rescue worker carrying a child following an alleged chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Asked about the overnight strike on the Syrian air, Geng demurred, calling on all parties to “promote peaceful settlement” of the strife.

US President Donald Trump and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron have vowed a strong response to the suspected poison gas attack, which left dozens dead, and the UN Security Council was expected to discuss the crisis later on Monday.

On Monday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for a “strong and robust international response” to the alleged gas attack.

Speaking with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian on the phone, Johnson “underlined the urgent need to investigate what had happened in Douma and to ensure a strong and robust international response,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

Syria and its ally Russia have dismissed allegations that the attack was carried out by Syrian forces as “fabrications” and have warned against using them to justify military action.

The location of the T-4 airbase, highlighted in red, and Duma, Outside Damascus. (Credit: Joseph Hirsch)

The Foreign Office statement did not apportion blame for the alleged chemical attack. But it said that Le Drian and Johnson “noted that international investigators mandated by the UN Security Council had found the Assad regime responsible for using poison gas in at least four separate attacks since 2014.”

The two “agreed that those responsible for this attack must be held to account” and a UN Security Council meeting on Monday would be “an important next step in determining the international response and that a full range of options should be on the table,” it added.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman called reports of a chemical weapons attack “deeply disturbing” and said Britain would work with its allies on “a coordinated approach.”

The spokesman said Britain was “not involved” in the bombing raid on a Syrian airbase.

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