The Syrian government on Wednesday denied it possessed chemical weapons and branded the use of such arms “immoral and unacceptable.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad also said Syria would shoot down any jet that threatened its airspace, referring to an Israeli plane apparently downed by Syrian anti-aircraft fire over the weekend.
“The army will down any jet that launches an assault on Syria. And that is not a mere threat,” Mekdad said.
Damascus’s denial on chemical arms came a day after France’s President Emmanuel Macron warned his country would launch strikes if proof emerged that the Syrian regime had used banned chemical weapons against its civilians.
“We will strike the place where these launches are made or where they are organized,” Macron told the presidential press corps.
“But today our services have not established proof that proscribed chemical weapons have been used against civilian populations,” he added.
“As soon as such proof is established, I will do what I said,” Macron warned, while adding that “the priority is the fight against the terrorists, the jihadists.”
Regarding the Syrian regime itself, either during or after the conflict, Macron said “it will be answerable to international justice.”
Macron also called for an international meeting on Syria, in the region if possible.
In a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, Macron said he was “worried about indications suggesting the possible use of chlorine on several occasions against the civilian population in Syria these last few weeks.”
Russia has intervened alongside Syrian regime forces in the seven-year civil war and Putin is seen as the foreign leader with the most influence over Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Receiving Putin at Versailles in May 2017, Macron had declared that France would respond immediately to any use of chemical weapons in Syria.
“A very clear red line exists on our side: the use of chemical weapons by anyone,” Macron said, promising “retaliation and an immediate response from France.”
According to Washington, at least six chlorine attacks have been reported since early January in rebel areas, with dozens injured.
The Syrian government in late January denied carrying out chemical weapons attacks and its ally Moscow denounced the charges as a “propaganda campaign,” stressing that the perpetrators had not been identified.
While France, like the United States, suspects the Syrian regime, it says it does not yet have concrete evidence on the nature and origin of the attacks.
On Wednesday last week, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “all indications” suggest that Assad’s forces were using chlorine weapons in the civil war against rebel forces, but, being cautious, said “we haven’t completely documented this.”
But Defense Minister Florence Parly was more reserved on Friday when asked if Damascus had crossed the “red line.”
“At the moment because we don’t know what happened and the consequences of what happened, we can’t say we are where you say we are,” she told France Inter radio when asked about the “red line” Macron had set out in May.
“We have some indications of the use of chlorine, but we do not have absolute confirmation, so it is this confirmation work that we are doing with others because obviously we have to establish the facts,” she said.
Damascus has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons, with the United Nations among those blaming government forces for an April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhoun that left scores dead.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.