THE French government claimed yesterday that it could prove Syria’s military was guilty of the alleged chemical weapon attack used by Washington as a pretext for a missile strike on a Syrian air force base.
Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told France TV: “We will provide proof that the regime did indeed organise these strikes with chemical weapons.”
He said he could not yet produce the evidence as analysis of the April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun was still under way, but he added: “In a few days, I’ll be able to provide proof.”
Mr Ayrault made the claim despite his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov saying on Wednesday night that the massacre was a “provocation” designed to derail peace talks.
Also on Wednesday, Syria’s arch enemy Israel claimed that Damascus had not destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile as agreed in 2013 — and confirmed by both Russia and the United Nations — and still possessed “between one and three tons” of banned toxins.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its investigators in Khan Sheikhoun — occupied by the al-Qaida front Hayat Tahrir as-Sham (Hetesh) — had identified sarin nerve gas.
But yesterday, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov questioned how the samples had been collected and how the analysis could have been done so quickly.
UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said yesterday that he aimed to resume peace talks in Geneva next month, but “we are watching very carefully the developments on the ground.”
He claimed the truce brokered between Russia, Iran and Turkey last December “doesn’t seem to be working,” but said that issues would be addressed at the next meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
Yesterday afternoon, the Syrian army captured the town of Taybat al-Imam, north of Hama city, from Hetesh extremists following a dawn offensive.
If the army can hold the town, it may herald a Hetesh collapse following the terrorists’ second bid to seize Hama city earlier this year.