Russia urges restraint from 'all sides' in Syria
MOSCOW - The Kremlin on Wednesday urged restraint in Syria, saying that countries should avoid taking action that could further destabilise the war-torn country, as the US considered missile strikes over alleged chemical attacks.
"As before we would hope that all sides will avoid steps that in reality are not provoked by anything and that could destabilise the already fragile situation in the region," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
"The situation is tense," Peskov said, adding that Russia is calling for an "unprejudiced and objective investigation before making judgements" on the suspected use of chemical weapons.
Russia has threatened retaliatory action if missiles are fired at Syria over the chemical attack allegations it claims are fabricated.
"If there is a US strike... the missiles will be downed as well as the sources they were fired from," Russian Ambassador to Lebanon Alexander Zasypkin said late Tuesday.
He made the comments on Al-Manar, a Lebanon-based television channel run by the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, another key military ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The envoy argued the accusations that Damascus dropped chemical munitions on a rebel-held town in Eastern Ghouta last week were fabricated to justify strikes and added that Russia had long warned of the scenario.
Russian officials have repeatedly claimed in recent weeks that Syrian rebels, with support from the West, had been faking -- and training civilians to fake -- the symptoms of a chemical attack.
Washington has promised a "forceful" response to an alleged chemical weapons attack on Saturday that killed at least 40 people in Douma, the last rebel outpost in the Syrian capital.
The US, Britain and France have argued the attack bears all the hallmarks of a strike ordered by the regime, which has been blamed for previous attacks by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Last year, US President Donald Trump launched a cruise missile strike against a Syrian air base in retaliation for a sarin attack the United Nations later pinned on Assad.
He swiftly responded, on social media, to Russian statements on the latest incident.
"Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!' You shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
Syria on Wednesday described Trump's threats as a "reckless escalation", state news agency SANA said.
"We are not surprised by such a reckless escalation from a regime like the United States which has fostered and continues to foster terrorism in Syria," SANA reported an official source at the foreign ministry as saying.
Damascus, which refers to all rebels as "terrorists", has almost entirely expelled opposition fighters from their former bastion of Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus since mid-February.
"It's not at all strange that [the United States] supports the terrorists in Ghouta and condones their fabrications and lies to use them as a pretext to target Syria," the official source said.
Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia in turn has warned that US military action in Syria could lead to "grave repercussions."
The Russian foreign ministry on Wednesday furiously dismissed the allegations of use of chemical weapons, saying they were fabricated to bring about the ouster of Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad.
"This is a total deception on a global scale," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists at a briefing.
"Damascus has neither the motive to use chemical weapons nor the chemical weapons themselves. There is no proof of their use by Damascus," she said.
"No one wants proof or facts. All the decisions have been taken, the aim as before is to remove Assad," she said.
Russia on Tuesday at the United Nations Security Council vetoed a US-drafted resolution on setting up a panel to identify the perpetrators of alleged toxic gas attacks in Douma.
Russia has said its military specialists found no evidence of a chemical attack and suggested that rebels staged or spread rumours of an attack to pin the blame on Damascus.