Israel is the “main beneficiary” of allegations that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad was behind the deadly chemical weapons attack, Syria’s foreign minister said Thursday.
Walid Muallem said that Syria’s armed forces “did not and will not” use chemical weapons, even against jihadist groups.
“I stress to you once again: the Syrian army has not, did not and will not use this kind of weapons — not just against our own people, but even against the terrorists that attack our civilians with their mortar rounds,” he said.
Muallem spoke at a press conference in Damascus two days after a suspected chemical attack left at least 86 people dead in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in northwestern Syria.
The deaths have sparked international outrage with many pointing the finger at the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but Muallem cast doubt on the evidence.
“The first air raid conducted by the Syrian army was at 11:30 am on that day (Tuesday) and it attacked an arms depot belonging to al-Nusra Front that contained chemical weapons,” he said.
Al-Nusra — now known as Fateh al-Sham Front — is al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate and is the main jihadist rival of the Islamic State group.
“Al-Nusra Front and ISIS (IS) and other organizations continue to store chemical weapons in urban and residential areas,” Muallem added.
The Syrian army denied on Tuesday that it had used chemical weapons against Khan Sheikhoun, and Damascus ally Moscow said “toxic substances” may have been released when the army struck a “terrorist warehouse.”
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) both said they were investigating the attack.
And Britain, France and the United States have drafted a UN resolution that would demand Syria provide information on its flight operations as part of an OPCW probe.
On Thursday, Muallem said such an investigation “must guarantee that it is not politicized, that it has broad geographic representation and that it is launched from Damascus, not Turkey.”
“We provide the OPCW and the UN with intelligence on the transfer of chemical substances from Iraq and into Syria, or from Turkey into Syria, but an investigation is for the OPCW,” he said.
The Kremlin on Thursday said that US allegations that Syrian forces carried out the chemical attack are not based on “objective” information.
“We consider a much more measured approach necessary and do not think it is possible to surrender oneself to hasty conclusions about what happened in Syria in the Idlib province,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
“It was really a threatening development of events, very dangerous and a monstrous crime,” he said, referring to the incident.
“No one could have any realistic, verified information. Any data that the American side or our colleagues in other countries could have cannot be based on objective materials or evidence.”
AP contributed to this report.