US accuses Russia of fabricating Syria chemical attack story
The US and UK on Friday accused Russia of fabricating a suspected chemical weapons attack blamed on Syrian rebels, in a bid to undermine a fragile truce between Bashar al-Assad's regime and the armed opposition.
Moscow accused the rebels of hitting a regime-controlled town in Aleppo province with chlorine gas on 24 November, with over 100 people being treated with breathing difficulties.
Russia followed by launching air raids on the opposition province of Idlib, in breach of a truce.
The US now says it has "credible evidence" that the Syrian regime and Russia fired tear gas, and no chlorine was used.
"The United States is deeply concerned that pro-regime officials have maintained control of the attack site in its immediate aftermath, allowing them to potentially fabricate samples and contaminate the site before a proper investigation of it by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement.
"We caution Russia and the regime against tampering with the suspected attack site and urge them to secure the safety of impartial, independent inspectors so that those responsible can be held accountable."
He believes that Damascus and Moscow used the incident as "an opportunity to undermine confidence in the ceasefire in Idlib".
The UK also backed the opinion of the US, saying the opposition chemical attack story was "highly unlikely".
"It is likely that this was either a staged incident intended to frame the opposition, or an operation which went wrong and from which Russia and the regime sought to take advantage," a UK Foreign Office spokesperson said, also backing an investigation by the OPCW, the international chemical weapons watchdog.
Russia then targeted the US, following the complaints.
"The Russian Defense Ministry does not rule out that the US Department of State's allegations about the recent toxic chemicals attack in Syria's Aleppo are aimed at distracting the public attention from the crimes of the US aviation in the east of the Middle Eastern country," Russia's embassy to Washington wrote on Facebook.
Assad's forces are suspected by the UN and chemical watchdogs of carrying out numerous deadly gas attacks on opposition areas in Syria.
A sarin gas attack in April 2017 in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed at least 83 people, according to the United Nations.
US President Donald Trump fired 59 cruise missiles at military targets in Syria, a reversal from his predecessor Barack Obama's controversial reluctance to respond militarily.
The regime is thought to have used deadly sarin and more commonly chlorine in its military campaigns.
The recent chemical incident in Aleppo was not likely chlorine - as claimed by Russia - as the odour was not present.