MOSCOW, September 3 (RIA Novosti) – Syrian rebel forces and not the government are responsible for recent chemical weapon attacks in the civil war there, a Russian Islamic council head said Tuesday.
“On the rebels’ videos posted on YouTube, it’s explicitly stated that they are carrying, as they say, ‘sarin [gas].’ I’ll say, unequivocally, that this weapon was used by the terrorist opposition,” Farid Salman, chairman of the Ulema Council of the Russian Association of Islamic Consent (RAIS), said in an interview with RIA Novosti.
He did not provide any other evidence to back that claim.
Sarin is a military nerve agent, classified by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction. A UN inspection team sent to investigate a chemical weapon attack on a suburb near Damascus on August 21 found evidence that sarin had been used, US Secretary of State John Kerry told CNN on Sunday. The US, as well as the French and UK governments, claim the Syrian government is responsible for recently using chemical weapons against the rebels and civilians during the conflict there.
Prior to the Syrian civil war, the US Central Intelligence Agency said it believed Syria held chemical weapons stockpiles, including nerve agents like VX and sarin and blister agents such as mustard gas, the Nuclear Threat Initiative said.
Salman said that the Syrian government had provided a “firm guarantee” that it had not used chemical weapons on the rebels and that the opposition itself – who he described as “terrorists” – was responsible for the “deliberate provocation” of multiple recent chemical weapon attacks in Syria. He added that “neighboring states” have supported the Syrian opposition in acquiring and using chemical weapons, but did not substantiate his claims.
Salman told RIA Novosti that he had lived and studied in Syria for some time in the past, and that he has repeatedly returned to visit, including during the course of the country’s ongoing civil war.
Noting previous trends across other Middle Eastern conflicts, including Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, and Egypt, he expressed concern for the future stability of Islam in Syria as a result of the war.
“Paradoxically, the presence of Christians in the Middle East is always a guarantee of protection – specifically of traditional, civilized Islam,” Salman said. “As soon as that’s cut out, as the Christian population in one Middle East region or another is driven out, the complete destruction of traditional Islam begins.”
He argued that if the Syrian opposition manages to topple the current regime, the country’s Christian population will cease to exist – either killed or driven out by religious persecution – and traditional Muslims would then become a target for extremists.
Military intervention in Syria by the US, UK, or France, he added, would cross a “red line” in interfering with the country’s internal affairs and signal the end to the UN-regulated system of a coordinated global approach to the decision of political issues.
In the international debate on the Syrian issue, Salman said Russia should continue to play a moderating role.
“I believe that Russia should act as guarantor of safety for Syria,” he said. “I think our fleet stationed in the Mediterranean Sea should show Russia’s presence in the region, to demonstrate to the world that we remain a guarantor of peace and security in the international arena.”