Russia: US Attack would Destroy any Chemical Evidence
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syria conflict (all times local):
Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the “smart” missiles that U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to send to Syria will destroy evidence of a suspected chemical weapons attack.
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that the U.S. will be launching missiles at targets in Syria in response to the suspected chemical attack in a rebel-held area that killed at least 40 people.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, in a Facebook post later on Wednesday wondered if the chemical weapons watchdog investigating the reports has been warned that the missiles will destroy “all evidence” of the attack.
She adds: “Or is it the original idea to use the smart missiles to sweep the traces of the provocation under the rug?”
Both the Syrian government and Russia deny the attack ever took place.
Russian state news agencies are reporting that a high-level Russian delegation has arrived in Syria where it is going to meet with President Bashar Assad.
The visit that RIA Novosti and Tass reported on Wednesday comes amid growing expectation of U.S. retaliation against Syria for a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town.
The two state news agencies reported said the Russian delegation includes the governor of an oil-rich Siberian region and several lawmakers arrived earlier on Wednesday.
Tass in a news story out of the northern Syria city of Homs quoted lawmaker Dmitry Sablin refuting reports that Assad may have fled Syria. Sablin said Assad is in Damascus and is going to meet the Russian delegation.
The U.N. health agency says reports from its partners indicate some 500 patients showed signs of exposure to toxic chemicals following shelling on the Syrian town of Douma over the weekend.
The World Health Organization says patients at health facilities showed “signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed.”
A WHO statement Wednesday did not confirm outright that a chemical weapons attack had taken place.
WHO also cited reports about the deaths of more than 70 people who sheltered in basements, saying 43 of those people who died had shown “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals.”
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Tuesday it would send “shortly” a fact-finding mission to Douma.
A senior Russian lawmaker has warned the United States that Russia would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime.
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened military action after last weekend’s suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus, which activists and rescuers say killed at least 40 people. The Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied that such an attack ever happened.
State news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday quoted Andrei Krasov, deputy chairman of the State Duma’s defense committee, as saying that Russia will treat a U.S. airstrike on Syria “not just as an act of aggression but a war crime of the Western coalition.”
Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, providing air cover for his offensive against the Islamic State group and Syrian rebels. Russian military advisers are deployed at many Syrian government facilities.
European airspace authorities are warning aircraft to be careful over the next days when flying close to Syria because of possible military action against President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The Eurocontrol airspace organization said that the European Aviation Safety Agency had sent a “Rapid Alert Notification” that flight operations needed to consider the possibility of air or missile strikes into Syria.
U.S. officials have consulted with global allies on a possible joint military response to Syria’s alleged poison gas attack on a rebel-held town.
In a notice posted to Eurocontrol’s website, EASA said: “Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken.”
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