Russia says Syria gas incident caused by rebels’ own chemical arsenal

A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah


(Reuters) Russia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday that a poisonous gas contamination in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun was the result of gas leaking from a rebel chemical weapons depot after it was hit by Syrian government airstrikes.

The United States has blamed the administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the attack, in which scores of people are reported to have been killed.

“Yesterday, from 11:30 am to 12:30 p.m. local time, Syrian aviation made a strike on a large terrorist ammunition depot and a concentration of military hardware in the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun town,” Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konoshenkov said in a statement posted on YouTube.

“On the territory of the depot there were workshops which produced chemical warfare munitions.”

He said the chemical munitions had been used by rebels in Aleppo last year. “The poisoning symptoms of the victims in Khan Sheikhoun shown on videos in social networks are the same as they were in autumn of the previous year in Aleppo,” Konoshenkov said.

The Syrian military denied responsibility and said it would never use chemical weapons, echoing denials it has made over the course of the more than six-year Syrian civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands, created the world’s worst refugee crisis and drawn in nations such as Russia, Iran and the United States.

If confirmed, the incident reported in the town of Khan Sheikhoun would be the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since sarin gas killed hundreds of civilians in Ghouta near Damascus in August 2013. Western states said the Syrian government was responsible for that attack. Damascus blamed rebels.

The Russian Defence Ministry, whose forces are backing Assad, said its aircraft had not carried out the attack. The U.N. Security Council was expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss the incident.

Reuters photographs showed people breathing through oxygen masks and wearing protection suits, while others carried the bodies of dead children. Corpses wrapped in blankets were lined up on the ground.

 


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