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Syria offers ‘evidence’ that rebels launched chemical attack

AFP

Syria’s government has handed Russia “evidence” implicating rebel forces in a deadly chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday following talks in the Syrian capital.

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Syria’s government has given Russia “evidence” incriminating rebel forces in a deadly chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on August 21, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday.

"The corresponding materials were handed to the Russian side. We were told that they were evidence that the rebels are implicated in the chemical attack," Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian media after meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem for talks late Tuesday.

Ryabkov added that Russia would "examine the Syrian materials implicating the rebels with the utmost seriousness."

Ryabkov’s comments came two days after the United Nations released a highly anticipated report confirming that the deadly nerve agent sarin gas had been used in last month’s attack. Although the report did not assign blame, France, Britain and the United States seized upon it, saying there was "little doubt" Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were responsible for the onslaught.

Russia, however, has given a different version of events, insisting that it has reason to believe rebel forces staged the attack in the hopes of forcing Western military action against Assad’s government.

UN report ‘biased’

Ryabkov also criticised the UN report as incomplete and partial. "Without a full picture... we cannot describe the character of the conclusions as anything other than politicised, biased and one-sided," he said.

Ryabkov was in Damascus to present Assad’s government with the terms of a US-Russian agreement to strip Syria of its chemical weapons arsenal. The deal, which was announced over the weekend, is meant to prevent a possible US-led military strike against Syria.

Ryabkov also said that he had emphasised to Moualem the importance of Syria “swiftly" handing over information on its stockpiles of chemical weapons to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a key measure of the US-Russia deal.

The Syrian ambassador to Moscow, Riyad Haddad, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that Ryabkov was expected to meet with Assad later on Wednesday.

Ryabkov said he had assured Syria that there was "no basis" for a UN Security Council resolution to invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows for the possibility of both military and non-military sanctions.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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