The Latest: Russia says no evidence of gas attack in Douma
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria developments (all times local):
Russia’s military says its personnel in a Syrian city allegedly hit by a chemical weapons attack have not found evidence to support the claim.
Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria, said Friday that “According to the results of a survey of witnesses, studying samples and investigating locations undertaken by Russian specialists and medical personnel in the city of Douma, where chemical weapons purportedly were used, the use of poisonous substances was not shown.”
Yevtushenko also said the Russian military will ensure security for investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, who will be working to determine whether chemical weapons were used in Douma.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says President Donald Trump isn’t letting anyone rush him into a decision on possible military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons.
Nikki Haley, who was at White House meetings on Thursday and was heading back to Washington for meetings on Friday, said “you don’t rush decisions like this.”
“If you rush decisions like this you make a mistake,” she told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. “What we’re making sure is that we have all the information to know if we do something what will happen, how will it happen and will it hurt anyone.”
Haley said she was “unbelievably proud of how president Trump has looked at the information, analyzed, not let anyone rush him into this.”
She said Trump said from the beginning the U.S. must have all the information and proof, “and we have to know that we’re taking every precaution necessary should we take action.”
Haley added that the National Security Council “has gone back multiple times” and put forward “multiple options.”
Russia’s U.N. ambassador says the United States appears to have adopted a policy to “unleash a military scenario against Syria,” saying Moscow continues to observe “dangerous” military preparations.
Vassily Nebenzia told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that “bellicose rhetoric is being ratcheted up at all levels, including at the highest levels.”
He said these developments “cannot be tolerated” and are “fraught with grave repercussions for global security,” especially with Russian troops deployed in Syria.
Nebenzia said it was “unworthy” of the United States “to saber rattle.”
Britain’s U.N. ambassador is vehemently denying a Russian military claim that the United Kingdom staged an alleged chemical attack in Syria last weekend, calling it “bizarre” and “a blatant lie.”
Karen Pierce said she wanted “to state categorically ... that Britain has no involvement and would never have any involvement in the use of a chemical weapon.”
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Friday that Britain was “directly involved in the provocation,” but didn’t elaborate or provide evidence.
“This is grotesque,” Pierce told reporters as she left an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. The meeting was called by Russia to address U.S. threatened military action in response to last weekend’s attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
She added: “It’s some of the worst piece of fake news we’ve yet seen from the Russia propaganda machine.”
Hezbollah’s leader is telling President Donald Trump: “Your tweets do not scare us.”
Speaking at an election campaign rally in Beirut on Friday, Hassan Nasrallah describes Trump’s threats to send missiles into Syria as “Hollywood.”
“All these tweets and threats ... do not scare Syria, Iran, Russia nor any of the resistance movements in the region,” he said.
Nasrallah said there is no proof and no logic to accusations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Douma.
“Someone who is cornered might use chemicals, but why would a victor need to?” added.
Speaking via satellite link to supporters in Beirut on Friday, Nasrallah also called the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma a “theater.”
The leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group says an Israeli airstrike on an air base in central Syria that killed seven Iranians is a “historic mistake.”
Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah says Monday’s attack on the T4 air base ushers in a new phase that puts Israel in a state of “direct confrontation” with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Iran, Russia and Syria have blamed Israel for the airstrike, which followed a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus that was blamed by Western powers on the Syrian government. Israel has not acknowledged carrying out the strike.
Nasrallah said the “targeted killing” of Iranians was an act of “grave foolishness.”
Speaking via satellite link to supporters in Beirut Friday, Nasrallah also called the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma “theater.”
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says President Trump “has not yet made a decision about possible actions in Syria.”
Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council called by Russia that should the United States and its allies decide to act in Syria it will be to defend “a bedrock international norm that benefits all nations” — the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
She said Friday that “the United States estimates that (President Bashar) Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times.”
As for last week’s suspected poisonous gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Douma, Haley said: “We know who did this. Our allies know who did this. Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its cover-ups.”
The Russian military says that an alleged chemical attack in Syria was staged and directed by Britain.
Volunteer first responders and activists claimed a chemical attack by the Syrian government killed over 40 people in the town of Douma, which drew international outrage and prompted Washington and its allies to consider a military response. Moscow warned against any strikes and threatened to retaliate.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, released statements by medics from Douma’s hospital who said a group of people toting video cameras entered the hospital, shouting that its patients were struck with chemical weapons and causing panic. The medics said none of the patients were hurt by chemicals.
Konashenkov said Friday that Britain was “directly involved in the provocation,” but didn’t elaborate or provide evidence.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the Middle East is in such “chaos” today that it has become a threat to international peace and security — and Syria “represents the most serious threat.”
The U.N. chief told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday called by Russia that the highly volatile situation risks “escalation, fragmentation and division as far as the eye can see with profound regional and global ramifications.”
Guterres said “the Cold War is back — with a vengeance but with a difference,” because safeguards that managed the risk of escalation in the past “no longer seem to be present.”
He cited the Palestinian-Israeli divide, the Sunni-Shiite divide “evident from the Gulf to the Mediterranean,” and other divisive factors reflected in a multiplicity of conflicts.
But Guterres said Syria today is the most serious, and “there is no military solution to the conflict.”
The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron have agreed to coordinate their actions to avoid further military escalation in Syria.
A suspected poison gas attack in the suburbs of the Syrian capital, which killed more than 40 people, has drawn international outrage and prompted the United States and its allies to consider a military strike on Syria. France is reported to be one of the strongest backers of a possible strike which Russia strongly opposes.
The Kremlin said on Friday in its readout of the phone call between the two presidents that Putin and Macron agreed to ask their foreign policy chiefs to “keep in close contact” to “de-escalate” the situation in Syria.
Putin was quoted as urging for a “thorough and objective probe” into the reports of the chemical weapons attack. The Kremlin said both Putin and Macron lauded the upcoming visit of the international chemical watchdog’s fact-finding mission to Syria and pledged to join efforts to provide necessary assistance to that mission.
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “deep concerns” over the deterioration of the situation in Syria in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
According to a statement of the French presidency, Macron calls for dialogue between France and Russia to “continue and intensify” to bring peace and stability to Syria.
He “regretted” the Russian veto at the U.N. Security Council which prevented a “united and firm response” after a suspected gas attack last week in Douma, Syria.
Macron said Thursday on French national television France has proof that the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks and has crossed a line that could prompt French airstrikes.
The U.S., France and Britain have been consulting about launching a military strike in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he has urged calm and efforts to restitute peace in Syria during separate calls this week with U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Erdogan also told reporters on Friday that tensions between the two countries over a suspected chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma now seem to have eased.
Erdogan says: “What we insisted on tenaciously was the fact that is not right for tensions to heat up; we made requests concerning the restitution of peace and the end of the tragedy that is going on.”
The Turkish leader also said he sent video recordings concerning the “painful and disastrous scenes” in eastern Ghouta and Douma to Putin through an envoy of the Russian leader. Erdogan did not elaborate.
France’s foreign minister has cancelled trips to Albania and Slovenia because of rising global tensions around Syria.
The move Friday came as the U.S., France and Britain are in extensive consultations about launching a military strike on Syria in retaliation for suspected chemical weapons attacks.
Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec said in a statement to the official STA news agency that “due to the Syria crisis,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian cancelled his planned visit to Slovenia on Friday and Saturday.
Albania’s Foreign Ministry said Le Drian canceled a trip there planned Friday “due to international developments in the security field.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday he has proof that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind chlorine attacks in recent days. Syria’s government denies responsibility.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim says the use of chemical weapon against civilians in a Damascus suburb is “unforgivable” but says Turkey is urging all sides to refrain from actions that will cause further turmoil in Syria.
Yildirim on Friday again condemned the “heinous” the attack in Douma and said the perpetrators should “pay a price.”
“However ... any action that would lead to the failure or harm activities led by Turkey, Iran and Russia toward a lasting peace should be avoided,” Yildirim said. He was referring to the three countries’ efforts to reduce violence in Syria.
Syrian opposition activists and medics say a suspected gas attack last week killed more than 40 people in Douma. The Syrian government has denied the allegations.
Russia’s foreign minister has asserted that a suspected chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma last weekend was fabricated with the help of an unspecified foreign intelligence agency.
Sergey Lavrov says Russian experts have inspected the site of the alleged attack in Douma, just east of Damascus, and found no trace of chemical weapons. He says Moscow has “irrefutable information that it was another fabrication.”
Lavrov spoke to reporters in Moscow on Friday.
He said that “intelligence agencies of a state that is now striving to spearhead a Russo-phobic campaign were involved in that fabrication.” He didn’t elaborate or name the state.
The attack has drawn international outrage and prompted the United States and its allies to consider a military strike on Syria, something Moscow has strongly warned against.