x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Assad: Chemical attack allegations 'politically motivated'

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad said his forces did not use chemical weapons in an attack on a rebel-held suburb in a Damascus last week where hundreds of people died.

DAMASCUS // Syrian President Bashar Al Assad said his forces did not use chemical weapons in an attack on a rebel-held suburb in a Damascus last week where hundreds of people died.

The United States have said that there is little doubt that Assad's regime was responsible for the attack on August 21 in the capital's eastern suburbs. Anti-government activists and Doctors Without Borders say that more than 300 people were killed in an artillery barrage by regime forces that included the use of toxic gas.

Mr Assad told Russia's Izvestia daily that the accusations that his troops were responsible were "politically motivated".

"This is nonsense," Mr Assad was quoted as saying in an interview published today. "First they level the accusations, and only then they start collecting evidence."

Mr Assad said that attacking such an area with chemical weapons would not make sense for the government as there was no clear frontline between regime and rebel forces.

"How can the government use chemical weapons, or any other weapons of mass destruction, in an area where its troops are situated?" he said. "This is not logical. That's why these accusations are politically motivated, and a recent string of victories of the government forces is the reason for it."

A UN team that is supposed to investigate the alleged chemical attack left their hotel this morning.

An Associated Press photographer saw the members wearing body armour leaving in seven SUVs.

It was not clear if the team headed to the suburb where the alleged attack occurred.

The photographer said UN disarmament chief Angela Kane saw them as they leave but did not go with them this morning.

Syrian activists and opposition leaders have said that between 322 and 1,300 people were killed in the alleged chemical attack last Wednesday.

Syria said Sunday that a UN team could investigate the site but a senior White House official dismissed the deal as "too late to be credible".

Meanwhile, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said Ankara would take part in an international coalition to move against President Bashar Al Assad's government if the UN failed to come up with sanctions to punish Syria.

In comments published Monday in Milliyet newspaper, Mr Davutoglu said Turkey's priority is to act according to UN decisions, but the country would join a coalition if there is no UN mandate.

Mr Davutoglu said "36 or 37" countries were already discussing options.