Russia claims Washington 'instigating chemical attacks' in Syria as a pretence to attack Assad regime
Syria and its ally Russia have accused Washington of "inviting" extremists to carry out chemical attacks, which would then be blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's government to justify a retaliatory attack.
Syrian state media said on Thursday that the regime rejected US allegations that Syria was preparing for a chemical weapons attack, describing such accusations as "misleading" and "completely baseless."
It said the allegations were designed to "justify a new aggression on Syria under ill-founded pretexts," similar to what happened in April when the US struck a Syrian air base in response to the chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed nearly 90 people.
Russia's foreign ministry similarly released a statement on Wednesday, claiming that the US allegations were an "invitation for terrorists to fabricate another large-scale chemical provocation."
Earlier this week, the White House warned that Assad was preparing for another chemical attack and said that the Syrian ruler will "pay a heavy price" if he unleashes it.
Also on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed that Moscow has received information that Syrian rebels have been preparing fabricated video footage to accuse Damascus of a chemical attack.
She said that according to the information Russia has, Syrian towns of Saraqib and Ariha could serve as venues for the "provocation."
Both towns are located in the province of Idlib in northwestern Syria and are controlled by the rebels.
The US in April struck the Shayrat air base in central Syria, which it said had been used to stage a chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
The Syrian government has denied it ever used banned chemicals, and it rejected Washington's latest allegations.
Russia also has strongly denied that Assad's forces were to blame for the attack in April, arguing that the victims had died of exposure to toxic agents released when Syrian warplanes hit a rebels' chemical weapons depot.
Moscow claimed that some of the images from the scene were fabricated and criticised the international chemical weapons watchdog of failing to send its inspectors to the site of the attack and the Syrian air base allegedly used to launch it.
A fact-finding mission by the UN's chemical watchdog, the OPCW, concluded that sarin was used as a chemical weapon in the April 4 Khan Sheikhoun attack, according to a confidential report obtained by AFP.
The findings by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will now be taken up by a joint UN-OPCW panel to determine whether Syrian government forces were behind the attack.