Wed Apr 12, 2017 6:7AM
Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff’s operations department
Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff’s operations department

Russia has said it is ready to provide inspectors with access to a Syrian airbase that the opponents of the Syrian government say was used to carry out a “chemical attack.”

At least 86 people died in the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria last week in what was claimed to be a chemical attack conducted by the Syrian government. Damascus has denied the accusation, saying that a chemical weapons depot held by militants opposed to the government had been hit in a conventional Syrian airstrike.

But Western countries have been insisting that Damascus was behind the attack, with the United States naming a particular Syrian airbase as the launch pad for the alleged gas attack. The US military launched missiles against that base — the Shayrat airfield in Syria’s Homs Province — on Friday, saying the strikes were carried out in retaliation for the April 4 “chemical attack.”

Russia, which has been carrying out an aerial bombing campaign in Syria on behalf of Damascus, has denied that any chemical weapons were used by the Syrian government.

Iran, another Syrian ally, has proposed that an impartial investigation be launched into the accusations.

On Tuesday, Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff’s Operations Department, said Russia would grant access to international inspectors to the airfield.

“Experts are aware that it is impossible to conceal the traces of chemical weapons,” Colonel General Rudskoy said.

He said the Syrian government, too, was ready to grant access to experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the army base.

The Russian military official also said the Syrian government was not in possession of any chemical weapons. He said anti-Damascus militants were suffering one defeat after another and were on the run in the territories they had occupied.

“Under such circumstances, the government of [Syrian President] Bashar Assad has no need to use chemical weapons. Moreover, the Syrian army does not have any,” he said.

Colonel General Rudskoy said claims that the Assad government was behind a chemical attack were “highly questionable.”

In 2013, Russia brokered a deal with the US to have the Syrian government’s chemical arsenal turned over in return for a reversal of US plans to attack Syria back then. The task to remove Syrian chemical arms was carried out by the OPCW.

Rudskoy said under that deal, the Syrian government fully destroyed all of the chemical weapons it had access to.

People gather at the site of an alleged airstrike in the northern Syrian city of Idlib, April 10, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

“Out of 12 facilities used for storing and producing chemical weapons, ten were destroyed as confirmed by the OPCW experts. The Syrian government has no access to the remaining two facilities as they are located on a territory controlled by the so-called opposition,” the Russian official said.

He said it remained unclear whether the chemical arms stored at those two facilities had been destroyed.

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“No facts confirming production or possession of chemical agents [by the Syrian government] were found,” Rudskoy emphasized, adding that “Syria has no chemical weapons” and this fact was “documented and confirmed by the OPCW representatives.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the attack on Khan Shaykhun as a “false flag” operation aimed at undermining the Syrian government and warned of a threat of similar incidents in the future, possibly targeting a Damascus suburb.

Controversial draft resolution at UNSC

Meanwhile, a draft resolution has been proposed by Britain, France, and the US to be forwarded to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), calling for a probe into the “chemical attack” in Syria.

A vote on the draft resolution is expected at 1900 GMT on Wednesday.

According to AFP, the draft resolution expresses “horror” at the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Shaykhun and condemns the alleged April 4 attack.

The draft also calls on the Syrian government to provide a range of potentially confidential military information, including flight logs and similar military information regarding operations on April 4. It also demands the names of military commanders involved in operations on that day.

The text also calls on Syria to provide access to air bases to UN investigators.