DAMASCUS (AFP) – Russia hit out Friday at calls for force to be used after Syria’s opposition and European states accused the war-torn country’s regime of killing hundreds in chemical weapons attacks.
As the regime’s international allies and foes traded barbs over the reported atrocity, U.S. President Barack Obama said the alleged use of chemical weapons was “clearly a big event of grave concern”.
The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said, meanwhile, that one million Syrian children now live as refugees abroad as a result of the relentless fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.
The opposition said the regime of Assad, an ally of Moscow, used chemical weapons east and southwest of Damascus in attacks Wednesday that killed hundreds of people.
The regime denies it unleashed any chemical attacks.
Harrowing footage distributed by activists showing unconscious children, people foaming around the mouth and doctors apparently giving them oxygen to help them breathe has triggered revulsion around the world.
A day after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged a reaction “with force” if a massacre involving chemical weapons is confirmed, his British counterpart said his government believed Assad’s regime was behind the attacks.
“We do believe this is a chemical attack by the Assad regime on a large scale, but we would like the United Nations to be able to assess that,” said Britain’s William Hague.
His televised statement came after Russia’s foreign ministry branded as “unacceptable” calls for use of force against the Damascus regime.
“Against the background of another anti-Syrian wave of propaganda, we believe calls from some European countries to apply pressure on the U.N. Security Council and already now take a decision on the use of force are unacceptable,” the ministry said.
It said evidence was mounting that the attack was “clearly provocative in nature” and that Internet footage said to implicate the regime had been posted before it took place. It also accused the rebels of “directly impeding an objective investigation” of the incident.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a statement issued after he held a telephone conversation with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry, said Moscow “called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the U.N. chemical experts”.
Lavrov also appealed for rebels to allow the U.N. inspectors on the ground in Syria probing three other suspected chemical attack sites safe access to areas where the latest alleged attacks occurred.
Both Lavrov and Kerry agreed on the need for an “objective investigation,” the Russian ministry said.