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Robert Cusack

Russia still backing Syrian regime despite horrific sarin attack

A child victim of the chemical gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, Idlib [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 6 April, 2017

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Moscow reaffirmed its support for the Syrian regime's military despite the horrific killing of scores of civilians in a chemical attack on a village in opposition territory.

Russia pledged its continuing support for the Syrian regime on Wednesday, despite a horrific sarin-gas attack on the village of Khan Sheikhun in opposition-held Idlib province on Tuesday.

"The Russian Federation and its military are continuing… to support the anti-terrorism operation and liberation of the country, which is being conducted by the Syrian armed forces," said Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson also called on the United Nation's Security Council should urge the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to launch a fact-finding mission in Syria.

"It is crucial to call upon an OPCW fact-finding mission in charge of investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria," said Maria Zakharova, according to Interfax.

The statement came hours after a separate spokesperson for the military pledged Russia's continuing support for the Syrian army - but stopped short of pledging support for the Assad regime.

US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said on Wednesday it was time for Russia to rethink its relationship with the Assad regime.

"There is no doubt in our mind that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad is responsible for this horrific attack," Tillerson told reporters at the State Department.

"And we think it is time for the Russians to really think carefully about their continuing support for the Assad regime."

The latest estimates claim that at least 72 people, including twenty children, were killed in the chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun, near Idlib in northern Syria on Tuesday.

More than a hundred people are being treated in local hospitals and dozens more have been transferred to neighbouring Turkey for treatment of critical conditions.

The Kremlin defended Damascus after the attack, saying that a Syrian airstrike had hit a "terrorist warehouse making bombs, with toxic substances".

Infographic: Syria chemical attack
Click to expand: Syria's chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun

Moscow's support for the Syrian regime military on Wednesday followed a telephone call between the Russian and Syrian foreign ministers on Wednesday evening.

According to the Syrian state-owned media, both ministers "rejected" a "politicised campaign that targets Syria".

The Assad regime in Damascus has denied responsibility for the chemical weapons attack, claiming that it "has not used nor will use in any place or time, neither in past or in future".

Read more: Syrian regime used chemical weapons in final Aleppo push

International observers have documented a long list of deadly chemical attacks since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.

A 2016 investigation by the UN and the OPCW found that the Syrian regime had likely used chemical weapons against its own civilians on multiple occasions.

"The use of these weapons is abhorrent and we unequivocally condemn those who unleash them," the UK's UN Ambassador, Matthew Rycroft, told the Security Council in August.

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