Putin: ‘No proof’ Assad behind chemical weapons assault

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said that there was “no proof” that the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Assad was responsible for the recent deadly chemical weapons attack in the war-torn country, which Western nations have pinned on the Syrian army.

“According to our information, there is no proof that chemical weapons were used by Assad. We are convinced that he didn’t do it,” Reuters quoted Putin as telling the French daily Le Figaro.

Russia’s president also said that countries such as the US and France have sought to blame Assad for the April attack in order to justify “to the international community why it was necessary to continue to impose measures to pressure Assad, including militarily.”

Putin said that he proposed leading an investigation into the chemical weapons attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, in which over 80 people were killed, but was rebuffed by Western nations, according to Reuters.

In this June 7, 2016 file photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad addresses the newly-elected parliament in Damascus, Syria. (SANA via AP)

The Russian’s president’s comments came after the issue of last month’s gas attack was raised by his French counterpart during a meeting at Versailles on Monday, with Emmanuel Macron saying France would respond immediately to any future use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“A very clear red line exists on our side, the use of chemical weapons by whomever,” Macron said.

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) gestures as he speaks during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) following their meeting at the Versailles Palace, near Paris, on May 29, 2017. (AFP Photo/Christophe Archambault)

Despite the denials of Syria and its backers Russia and Iran, the US, France and others have said that evidence indicates the Syrian regime was behind the deadly April 4 chemical weapons assault.

In April, France’s then foreign minister said that the chemical analysis of samples taken from the sarin gas attack in Syria “bears the signature” of Assad’s government and shows it was responsible for the deadly assault.

According to Jean-Marc Ayrault, France came to this conclusion after comparing samples from a sarin attack in Syria from 2013 that matched.

France knows “from sure sources” that “the manufacturing process of the sarin that was sampled is typical of the method developed in Syrian laboratories,” Ayrault added. “This method bears the signature of the regime and that is what allows us to establish its responsibility in this attack.”

France’s Foreign Ministry said that blood samples were taken from a victim in Syria on the day of the attack in the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, on April 5, 2017. (AFP/Omar Haj Kadour)

Environmental samples, the French ministry said, show the weapons were made “according to the same production process of the one used in the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Sarabeq.”

France’s presidency said the country’s intelligence services presented evidence which “demonstrate that the (Syrian) regime still holds chemical warfare agents, in violation of the commitments to eliminate them that it took in 2013.” It said the information will be made public.

The United States has also blamed Assad’s government for the attack. The Trump administration fired cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in retaliation for the attack and issued sanctions on 271 people linked to the Syrian agency said to be responsible for producing non-conventional weapons. Syria has strongly denied the accusations.

It’s thought that Assad’s government still has a stockpile hundreds of tons of chemical weapons despite saying it had handed over all of them as part of a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia. That deal came after the US threatened military action after hundreds were killed in a deadly chemical attack on opposition-held suburbs of Damascus.

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