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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

US to discredit Assad and Russia over alleged chemical weapons attack

Statement to be released amid heightened US-Russian tensions over Syria

A woman lies on a stretcher inside a hospital after what Syrian state media said was a suspected toxic gas attack in Aleppo. Sana
A woman lies on a stretcher inside a hospital after what Syrian state media said was a suspected toxic gas attack in Aleppo. Sana

Ten days after the Syrian regime and Russia accused the Syrian opposition of carrying out an chemical weapons attack in Aleppo, the Trump administration is to release a statement on Tuesday discrediting those allegations.

Instead, Washington will describe a teargas attack that Syrian regime forces themselves carried out in the area.

Bloomberg first reported on Tuesday that the White House will release a statement concluding that the November 24 incident was essentially a false-flag operation by the regime and Russia.

One diplomatic source and a Syrian opposition source in contact with the administration confirmed to The National plans for such a statement.

The US will say that the material used in the attack was not chlorine but teargas, Bloomberg said.

It will reference “‘credible information that pro-regime forces’ probably used it against Syrian civilians in northwestern Aleppo”.

Damascus and Moscow will also be accused of “blaming the attack on opposition and extremist groups to undermine confidence in the ceasefire in Idlib”.

Russia and Assad forces carried out air strikes in the area after claiming a “toxic gas” attack, effectively breaking the Idlib ceasefire agreement with Turkey agreed last September.

The White House statement will also include a technical breakdown of the data without detailing US evidence.

“Technical analysis of videos and images of munition remnants of Russian-media portrayed mortars indicate they are not suitable for delivering chlorine,” the statement will read, according to Bloomberg.

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The statement comes as US and Russian tensions escalate over a host of issues, including Syria and Ukraine. On Monday, US special representative to Syria James Jeffrey accused Russia of “playing a dangerous game accusing us [Washington] of playing a dangerous game [in Syria]”.

Mr Jeffrey said that the US “cannot corroborate any chemical weapons attack based on that incident”.

He went on to say that “the Damascus regime, and particularly the Russians and the Iranians, want to see what I call the three Rs: refugees essentially pushed back to Syria; reconstruction aid, perhaps up to $400 billion according to the UN, to flow into the country from the West – us, Europe, international organisations; and the regime to be recognised by the world as legitimate. None of those things are happening.”

He reiterated his call for Russia to finish the work on the constitutional committee after a recent failure in Astana-based talks.

Mr Jeffrey said “the Russians, the Iranians, and the Turks would be able to finalise the third list of members to this constitutional committee, and that was a primary goal of the Astana meeting last Thursday. They didn’t succeed”.

The State Department also announced on Tuesday that Mr Jeffrey will be leaving on a trip tomorrow to Turkey and Jordan that will last ten days.

Mr Jeffrey will meet “Turkish leaders and other senior officials to discuss the promotion of stability and security in Syria... [and] address security concerns of our two countries and continue progress on issues of mutual interest regarding the ongoing crisis in Syria”.

In Jordan, the meetings will “emphasise the importance of maintaining pressure on the Syrian regime and encouraging all possible efforts to advance the political track as called for in UNSCR 2254.”

The statement also referenced America's “continued support for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan and discuss additional ways to ensure consistent, unhindered access to humanitarian and medical aid for the population of Rukban”.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was also to hold a closed meeting at the UN on Tuesday morning.

This is the second trip US officials have made to Amman and Ankara since September. Relations and co-ordination between the US and the two countries has improved since Mr Jeffrey assumed his position.