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Syria, Russia: US Plotting Provocation 06/29 06:06

   DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syria's government and its ally Russia accused 
Washington on Thursday of concocting a "provocation" in Syria, which would then 
be blamed on President Bashar Assad's government as alleged use of chemical 
weapons to justify an attack.

   In a statement carried by the official news agency, Syria's Foreign Ministry 
said it rejects U.S. allegations that Syria was preparing for a chemical 
weapons attack, describing such accusations as "misleading" and "completely 

   It said the objective of such allegations was to "justify a new aggression 
on Syria under ill-founded pretexts, similar to what happened in April when the 
U.S. struck a Syrian air base, which it said had been used to stage a chemical 
attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed nearly 90.

   Earlier this week, the White House has warned that Assad is preparing for 
another chemical attack and said that the Syrian ruler will "pay a heavy price" 
if he unleashes it.

   Also Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said 
Moscow has received information that Syrian rebels have already fabricated 
video materials to accuse Damascus of a chemical attack.

   She said that according to the information Russia has, Syrian towns of 
Saraqib and Arihah 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.

   She claimed that such action could be aimed at derailing the next round of 
Syria peace talks brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran, which is set for next 
week in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana. The meeting is meant to determine 
specifics related to safety zones in Syria.

   Zakharova's strongly-worded statement reflect soaring tensions between 
Moscow and Washington even as U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's Vladimir 
Putin are expected to hold their first meeting at the sidelines of the G-20 
summit in Germany.

   The U.S. 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 Pentagon said the preparations detected by the U.S. occurred at the same 
Shayrat air base which the U.S. named as the platform for launching the April 

   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 
criticized 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.

   Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed on Thusrday that U.S. 
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call this week told him that 
Washington has information about Assad allegedly preparing a chemical attack.

   Lavrov questioned the veracity of the U.S. information and suggested that 
extremists could take advantage of the U.S. warning to stage a provocation in 
order to blame Assad.

   Asked how Russia would react to a possible U.S. strike on Syria, Lavrov said 
that the response will be "proportionate."


   Isachenkov reported from Moscow.


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