Despite evidence, Syria claims airstrikes happened hours after sarin-attack

Despite evidence, Syria claims airstrikes happened hours after sarin-attack
Syria's foreign minister has claimed that the regime could not have carried out Tuesday's chemical weapons attack as its jets didn't carry out its first airstrikes until hours later.
3 min read
06 April, 2017
Walid Muallem denied that Syrian planes were present at the time of the attack [Anadolu]
The Syrian regime has claimed it could not be held responsible for a horrifying chemical weapon attack on Khan Sheikhun, as its jets did not carry out airstrikes in the area until hours after the attack was reported.

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem made the outlandish claims during a press conference in Damascus on Thursday, which clashed with the testimonies of people on the ground and medical workers in the Idlib town.

"The first airstrike carried out by Syrian forces was at 11.30am on a warehouse belonging to al-Nusra Front [Tahrir al-Sham] containing chemical weapons," Muallem said.

The minister's statement appears to contradict the regime's official response after the incident. Syrian officials claimed the chemical attack must have happened after its planes bombed what has been claimed to be a warehouse belonging to Tahrir al-Sham.

However, Amnesty International interviewed a number of sources who said that at least one Syrian warplane had dropped bombs on Khan Sheikhun at about 6.30am on Tuesday.

One local nurse at the al-Rahma hospital said he remembered checking his watch at around 6.20am while drinking his morning coffee when the first bomb went off.

"The sound of the explosion was not what we are used to - my colleagues and I thought that this one hadn't exploded, because of the thump sound it made, not an explosion sound.

"A few minutes later, around 6:35am, the first victims were brought in – and then the flow just kept going until around 9am."

A number of international NGOs and monitoring groups have compiled a list of verified videos and interviews, all confirming that a bomb exploded at around 6.30am and a nerve agent was used in the local area.

Rescue workers reported on Wednesday gathering soil samples from the area for dispatch to western intelligence officials, in order to establish the source of the chemical agent used.

A spokesperson for the OPCW refused to say if they had received a request for clarification from Syria - the first step towards setting up an investigation on chemical weapons.

Shortly after the attack on Tuesday, the state-run Syrian media outlet SANA pointed blame at local armed Islamist groups in the area, including Tahrir al-Sham, adding that foreign powers "who were known to be hostile to Syria" were supporting the former al-Qaeda affiliate.

"Armed terrorist groups are pointing their fingers at the Syrian army - saying they're using chemical gases against civilians," SANA wrote on its Telegram account.

"They say this every time they fail to gain any progress on the ground in order to justify their failures and keep their funding."