The Russian Defense Ministry says Syrian government forces will suspend counter-terrorism operations near a town in the northwestern province of Idlib to help experts carry out an investigation into a suspected chemical incident there.
“The General Command of the Syrian Army and Armed Forces has expressed readiness to cease operations in Khan Shaykhun if a special mission of experts is sent there to investigate the events of April 4,” the ministry said in a statement released on Monday.
On April 13, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized Western countries, saying they were looking for excuses to avoid investigating both a recent suspected chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib as well as US missile strikes on an air base in the Arab country’s Homs Province.
“We want the inspectors to transparently, independently and professionally investigate not only the [Shayrat] airfield that, as claimed by our Western colleagues, was used to load the aircraft with chemical weapons, but also to inspect the site hit by the airstrike. Only this kind of inspection can be objective,” Lavrov said in a joint press conference with his Bangladeshi counterpart, Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali, in Moscow.
Over 80 people died in the April 4 purported gas attack on Khan Shaykhun, which Western countries blamed on the Syrian government.
Using the incident as a pretext, US warships fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea at the Shayrat airfield in Syria’s central province of Homs on April 7. US officials claimed that the suspected Khan Shaykhun attack had been launched from the military site.
Syria’s official news agency, SANA, reported that at least nine people had been killed in the early morning strike on the Syrian airfield.
Last week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with the Russian Sputnik news agency that the chemical incident was “a false-flag play just to justify the attack on the Shayrat base.”
He also accused the West of preventing any impartial investigation into the suspected chemical attack.