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Syrian official denies allegations of chemical weapons use

April 26, 2013|By Patrick J. McDonnell
  • Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoubi, seen at a news conference last month, has denied allegations that Syria used chemical weapons in its fight against rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar Assad.
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoubi, seen at a news conference last… (Syrian Arab News Agency )

 BEIRUT -- A top Syrian official on Friday denied U.S. and Western charges that Syria has deployed chemical weapons against rebels fighting to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad.

 “The U.S.-British and Western allegations in general on that issue do not have any credibility,” Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoubi told Russian television during a visit to Moscow, Syria’s close ally.

The denial comes after U.S. officials said Thursday for the first time that it was likely that Syria had used chemical weapons on a small scale, though definitive proof was still lacking.

 President Obama has labeled the use of chemical weapons by Syria a “red line” that could trigger some form of U.S. intervention in the nation's civil war, which is now more than 2 years old.

Syria has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. Damascus has never directly acknowledged even possessing them, though experts say it has an extensive chemical arsenal that includes sarin, a nerve agent that U.S. officials now suspect was used in Syria.

The Syrian information minister also repeated charges that the West had conspired to block a United Nations inquiry into the deadliest and most high-profile alleged chemical attack: a strike last month outside the northern city of Aleppo.

The Syrian minister reiterated the official account that “terrorists’’ -- the government’s term for armed rebels -- were behind a poison gas assault March 19 in Khan Assal, outside Aleppo. The government says a chemically tipped opposition missile struck near an army post, killing at least 25 and wounding more than 100. The casualties involved  both civilians and soldiers, according to official and opposition accounts.

The opposition blames the government for the attack. Rebels say the military fired a Scud missile fitted with a chemical warhead, though the missile apparently landed in government-controlled terrain.

Opposition officials  have accused Syrian forces  of deploying chemical weapons in several other battle zones, including the central city of Homs and in the township of Otaiba, outside Damascus.

On Friday, the information minister also repeated allegations that the chemical substances used near Aleppo in March “probably arrived from Turkey.”

The Turkish government has been a major backer of the rebels in neighboring Syria.  But Turkish officials have denied providing any weapons to the opposition, even though rebel arms are routinely brought into Syria via Turkey.

The United Nations has assembled a team to investigate alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. But Syrian authorities have insisted that the inquiry be limited to the March incident.

Damascus  has refused to allow U.N. investigators into the country for a wide-ranging investigation of all alleged chemical attacks, including those that the opposition blames on the government. The U.N. team is said to be in nearby Cyprus, waiting for permission to enter Syria.

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