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Monday 30th
posted by James Tweedie in World

SYRIA’S al-Qaida affiliate has caches of chemical weapons in Idlib, national media reported residents of the province saying yesterday.

The report by the official Sana news agency came a day after the government rejected a UN report blaming it for the April 4 nerve-gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in the south of the province.

Sana said the Nusra Front, now rebranded as Hetesh, has several stockpiles of chemical artillery shells in the towns of Ghazleh and Ma’arat Misrin.

Local sources said one component of the unidentified chemical agent was made locally in the extremists’ own laboratories, while another was industrially produced.

They said they had “confirmed information” that Hetesh was able to build rockets to carry the shells to a distance of 10 miles.

The sources reportedly warned that Hetesh was planning to use the weapons in a “false flag” attack which they would blame on the Syrian armed forces.

On Saturday Damascus accused the UN’s joint investigative mechanism (JIM) of perpetrating a “forgery” in order to put political pressure on Syria. “This report [on the Khan Sheikhoun attack] and the one that preceded it are falsifications of the truth,” the government statement said.

The JIM said it was “confident” the Syrian air force dropped sarin nerve gas on the town, killing more than 90 people — despite not visiting the Hetesh-controlled area and relying on samples provided by the rebels.

On Saturday the army launched a new offensive against Hetesh in south-east Hama, taking several villages following Russian air strikes that used powerful thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) bombs.