A day after French President Manuel Macron claimed that western governments have "proof" that a chemical weapon was used in the Syrian city of Douma last week and that it was deployed by the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday claimed his government possesses "irrefutable data" that the chemical attack was "staged" with the help of a foreign intelligence service.
"We have proof that last week, now 10 days ago, that chemical weapons were used, at least with chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of (President) Bashar al-Assad," Macron said in televised comments on Thursday, though he did not provide any details about the nature of the evidence or how it was acquired.
On Friday, talking to reporters in Moscow, Lavrov claimed that after Russian "specialists" on the ground in Douma examined the area where the alleged attack took place, "We have the irrefutable data that this [chemical attack] was staged." And, he added, "Special services of a country, which is now seeking to be in the first ranks of the Russophobic campaign, were involved in this staged event." He did not indicate to which country he was referring.
In his comments, Lavrov noted that a team from the UN's Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which Russia has urged to investigate the incident, won't arrive in Damascus until Saturday.
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On Tuesday, the OPCW announced that at the invitation of the Assad government, and with urging from the Russian Federation, it would deploy an investigative team to Syria.
"Since the first reports of alleged use of chemical weapons in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, were issued," the OPCW said in a statement, "[we have] been gathering information from all available sources and analyzing it." As part of its mandate, the OPCW does not release information pertaining to an investigation while that investigation is ongoing.
While the facts and purported "evidence" held by governments with opposing narratives on what happened in Douma remain elusive, efforts to stop an unnecessary and "illegal" escalation by the United States or other western governments, who have threatened to strike the Syrian government in retaliation, continue.
"The need to restart genuine negotiations for peace and an inclusive political settlement of the Syrian conflict, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces, could not be more urgent. We must do everything we can, no matter how challenging, to bring that about," Jeremy Corbyn, head of the U.K. Labour Party, said in a statement early Friday morning. "The humanitarian priority must be to halt the killing on all sides."