Moscow questions French report claiming Syrian govt ‘retained chemical weapons since 2013’
On Saturday, the French Ministry of Defense published a report compiled by the intelligence services regarding the possible use of chemical weapons in the Syrian city of Douma last week.
"French intelligence services estimate that Syria did not declare all of its chemical weapon stockpiles and capabilities with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in October 2013."
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova asked why France did not come forward with it before the US-led strikes early Saturday.
"It [France] says that it is supposedly a secret report, according to which Damascus has been carrying out certain secret programs for the production of chemical weapons since 2013," Zakharova said on the 60 Minutes program aired on Rossiya-1.
"So where was France? Where were the official representatives of the French Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defense, the president? Where was France's permanent representative to the UN Security Council? Why did they all remain silent all this time?" Zakharova said.
The report says the "French [intelligence] services began to analyze testimonies, photos and videos that appeared spontaneously on special websites, in the media and on social networks in the hours and days that followed the attack. The testimonies obtained by the services were also analyzed."
The "spontaneous nature of the release" of the alleged chemical attack victims' images on social media "confirmed that the data was not fabricated or reused." After studying the photos, French experts determined that the victims of the attack had "identifiable symptoms," as "some of the entities that published this information are recognized as usually reliable," the report stated.
On Friday, the Russian Defense Ministry presented what it says is proof that the reported chemical weapon attack in Douma was staged. During a briefing, the ministry showed interviews with two people, who, it said, are medical professionals working in the only hospital operating in Douma, near the Syrian capital. In the interviews released to the media, the two men reported how footage was shot of people dousing each other with water and treating children, which was claimed to show the aftermath of the April 7 chemical weapon attack.
According to the ministry, the patients shown in the video suffered from smoke poisoning and the water was poured on them by their relatives after a false claim that chemical weapons were used. "Please, notice. These people do not hide their names. These are not some faceless claims on social media by anonymous activists. They took part in taking that footage," the ministry spokesman noted.
Moscow also accused the British government of pressuring the perpetrators to speed up the "provocation."
"The Russian Defense Ministry also has evidence that Britain had direct involvement in arranging this provocation in Eastern Ghouta," Major-General Igor Konashenkov added, referring to the neighborhood of which Douma is a part. "We know for certain that between April 3 and April 6 the so-called White Helmets were seriously pressured from London to speed up the provocation that they were preparing."
The UK rejected the accusations. The reported chemical weapons attack escalated tensions over Syria, just as Damascus was about to seize full control of Eastern Ghouta. Last week, rebel-linked activists, including the White Helmets group (which has been plagued by allegations of ties to terrorist organizations), accused the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical attack that allegedly affected dozens of civilians in Douma. Damascus, which regards the White Helmets as a foreign-funded terrorist propaganda mouthpiece, rejected these allegations as "fabrications."
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