Russia claims Syria rebels plan to 'stage chemical attack'
"New provocations with the use of chemical weapons are being prepared - performances will be organised in Eastern Ghouta, among others," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Wednesday.
Lavrov's claims came after he and the Russian military warned on Tuesday that any such strike by the US coalition would lead to Russian retaliatory steps in Syria and "very serious" consequences.
They spoke after US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that the United States was ready to act in Syria "if we must" to address the use of chemical weapons and "inhuman suffering".
"Under this pretext there are plans to use force by the US coalition including against the Syrian capital," he said, adding that he hoped "such irresponsible plans will not be realised".
Lavrov's remarks follow a statement by the chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov who on Tuesday raised the spectre of a direct clash between Russian and US troops in Syria.
|Assad and his supporters have consistently claimed that chemical and other attacks were in fact staged, and that an army of actors including children has been trained to fake injury on a massive scale|
Gerasimov claimed that Moscow had "reliable information that fighters are preparing to stage the use by government troops of chemical weapons against the civilian population".
He alleged that the US plans to accuse Assad's troops of using chemical weapons against civilians and then "carry out a bombing attack" on Damascus.
He warned Russia would "take retaliatory measures" if the US targeted areas where it’s military are staying in the Syrian capital.
"Russian military advisers, representatives of the Centre for Reconciliation and members of military police" are currently in the Syrian capital, Gerasimov said.
US President Donald Trump last April ordered a missile strike against a regime airbase at Shayrat, after Washington said it used the facility to launch a sarin nerve gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun, killing scores of civilians.
The regime was also accused of using chlorine gas in at least three different areas of northern Syria in 2014 and 2015.
The use of chlorine as a weapon is banned under international law and Russia was supposed to oversee the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
The Syrian regime has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and Russia, its ally in the war, has questioned UN findings that Damascus carried out sarin and chlorine attacks.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters have consistently claimed that chemical and other attacks were in fact staged, and that an army of actors including children has been trained to fake injury on a massive scale.
Gerasimov's comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin told the American network NBC in an interview released last week that "we know about fighters' plans to stage the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army".
Putin insisted that the Syrian regime has "long ago" destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons and dismissed accusations against Assad and Russia.