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Russia has claimed it has ‘irrefutable evidence’ a suspected chemical attack in Syria was fake.
In a remarkable statement, the Russian military pointed the finger at the UK, saying it ‘staged and directed’ the attack.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, released statements by doctors at a hospital in Douma, claiming a group of people toting video cameras entered the hospital, shouting that its patients were struck with chemical weapons and causing panic.
The medics said none of the patients were hurt by chemicals.
Konashenkov said Friday that Britain was “directly involved in the provocation”.
He didn’t elaborate or provide any evidence.
The comments came in the wake of Moscow officials raising the prospect of war breaking out between the US and Russia if the situation continues to escalate.
The US and France insist they have proof the attack was carried out by the Assad regime, which denies being responsible.
Moscow has said any air strikes against Syria would be against international law.
“The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said. “We hope there will be no point of no return.”
He added that threats of military action in Syria by President Trump were made even more dangerous because Russian troops were on the ground there.
When asked if he was referring to a war between the United States and Russia, Mr Nebenzia said, “We cannot exclude any possibilities, unfortunately, because we saw messages that are coming from Washington. They were very bellicose.”
The Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko added on Friday that the Syrian government had previously warned Moscow foreign rebels could stage a chemical attack.
The escalation came alongside developments in the Salisbury poisoning, with the UK Government releasing a bombshell dossier today accusing the Russians of having spied on Sergei and Yulia Skripal for the past five years and poisoning doorknobs with the nerve agent novichok.
Mr Yakovenko, in turn, accused the UK government of ‘deliberately pursuing the policy of destroying all possible evidence’.
What has Trump said?
Tensions have risen significantly after a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma at the weekend in which dozens of people reportedly died.
Although Assad has denied the attack, the US, UK and France has said ‘all the indications’ are pointing towards it being ordered by the Syrian regime.
A fact-finding mission by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is due to arrive in Douma on Saturday.
However, the US President has hardly been consistent in his statements.
On Wednesday, he branded Assad a ‘gas killing animal’ and told Russia to ‘get ready’ because missiles ‘will be coming, nice and new and smart’.
However, in a cryptic message on Thursday he seemed to backpedal on the extraordinary warlike rhetoric from the previous day.
The US president tweeted on Thursday morning, ‘Never said when an attack on Syria would take place.
‘Could be very soon or not so soon at all!
The UK position
After briefing that she was going to be holding a ‘War Cabinet’ on Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Theresa May said she had won backing from her senior ministers to take unspecified action – alongside the United States and France – to deter further use of chemical weapons.
Downing Street said in a statement following a phone call between Mrs May and Trmup on Thursday night that ‘they agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged’.
Adding: ‘They agreed to keep working closely together on the international response.’
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Government of being little more than Trump’s poodle, and demanded it press for an independent UN-led investigation into the attack.
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“The government appears to be waiting for instructions from President Donald Trump on how to proceed,” the Labour Party leader said in a statement.
“Britain should press for an independent U.N.-led investigation of last weekend’s horrific chemical weapons attack so that those responsible can be held to account.”
Russia fake claims
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, has claimed the reported attack in Douma was actually staged.
In a press briefing on Friday, he said he had ‘irrefutable evidence’ it was staged by one country – though he didn’t name them.
And the Russian Embassy in the UK said it was ‘concerned about the decision of the Cabinet to “take action” amid the reports on the possible UK participation in the military operation against Syria’.
It added: ‘The preparations are being made despite lack of evidence as regards to what happened on the ground in British interpretation. At the request of the Syrian Government the OPCW sent a fact-finding team to Douma. The experts will arrive tomorrow. Syrian authorities will provide all the relevant security guarantees. Russia is ready to assist in ensuring its safety. We are interested in seeing independent experts there, so they can make all the necessary tests without delay.’
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova has sought to calm on the situation, telling Sky News on Thursday: ‘We’re living in 2018 and we have all sort of communication, including Twitter, and we can resolve all the questions like that – just picking up the phone, just sending messages – and I think this is the case which should be resolved through the communication but not through force.’