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Russia says Syrian ‘chemical attack’ was staged

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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has claimed the suspected chemical attack in Syria was staged with the help of an unspecified foreign intelligence agency, while the UN Security Council has scheduled an emergency meeting on Syria.

“Intelligence agencies of a state that is now striving to spearhead a Russophobic campaign were involved in that fabrication,” he said.

US President Donald Trump threatened strikes on Syria after a suspected gas attack on a rebel-held town which a Syrian medical relief group said killed at least 60 people, and a Russian envoy voiced fears of a wider conflict between Washington and Moscow.

Mr Lavrov said Russian experts had inspected the site of the alleged attack and found no trace of chemical weapons.

Moscow, he said, has “irrefutable information that it was another fabrication”. Mr Lavrov did not offer evidence to back up his claim.

Speaking to reporters in Moscow, he reiterated warnings to the West against military action saying that even the smallest miscalculation in Syria could lead to new waves of migrants and that ultimatums and threats did not help the dialogue.

“God forbid anything adventurous will be done in Syria following the Libyan and Iraqi experience,” Mr Lavrov told a news conference on Friday.

The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting after Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia raised concerns over the “the dangerous escalation” of the situation in Syria.

Mr Nebenzia said Russia was very concerned with “the dangerous escalation” of the situation and “aggressive policies” and preparations that some governments were making.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said on Friday international relations should not depend “on the mood of someone on the other side of the ocean when he wakes up”, in the apparent reference to Mr. Trump.

Fears of confrontation between Russia, the Syrian state’s key ally, and the West ran high after Mr. Trump said missiles “will be coming” and lambasted Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Trump has since tempered his remarks on attacking Syria and even as he consulted allies Britain and France, there were signs of efforts to prevent the crisis from spiralling out of control.

The White House said “no final decision has been made” on Syria after Mr Trump met his national security team.

The UN emergency meeting is scheduled to take place on Friday evening.

Mr Nebenzia told reporters after a closed council meeting on chemical weapons in Syria that Russia was calling for the emergency meeting to hear from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on the threat to international peace and security from possible military action against Syria.

He said it was a priority to get inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW) to the Damascus suburb of Douma, where the suspected gas attack took place last weekend, so they could see what happened — and “that nothing prevents them from doing it”.

The OPCW said the investigators would start work on Saturday (local time).

“The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war,” Mr Nebenzia said.

Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Qassem downplayed the rising tensions in Syria saying he did not believe it would spiral into a direct US-Russia conflict or a wider all-out war.

The heavily armed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement has been a vital military ally of Mr Assad in the seven-year war.

“We rule out the situation developing into a direct American-Russian clash or a wide state of war,” Sheikh Naim Qassem told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria in an interview.

“The conditions do not point to a total war happening … unless Trump and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu completely lose their minds,” he said.

Russia’s military said Douma had been brought under full control of the Syrian government under a Russia-mediated deal that secured the evacuation of the rebels and thousands of civilians after it was recaptured by Syrian forces.

The Government, however, said evacuations from Douma were ongoing and no Syrian Government forces had entered the town.

Mr Lavrov noted that Russian and US militaries had a hotline to prevent incidents, adding that it was not clear if it would be sufficient amid mounting tensions

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