MOSCOW, August 22 (RIA Novosti) – Reports alleging the use of chemical weapons in Syria may be aimed at disrupting the preparation of an international conference on Syria in Geneva, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thursday.
The Syrian opposition has accused the government of killing scores of people in a massive nerve gas attack in Damascus on Wednesday, with death toll estimates varying from a hundred to more than a thousand people. The Syrian government promptly denied the reports as baseless.
“It all looks like attempts to use any means to persuade the UN Security Council to take the side of the opponents of the [President Bashar Assad] regime and to derail the preparation of the Geneva conference, led by high-ranking Russian and US experts whose meeting is planned for August 28 in The Hague,” ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.
The official reiterated that Moscow considers it important to conduct an objective and professional investigation to confirm the authenticity of the reports.
Lukashevich said the Syrian government had expressed willingness to offer full cooperation and logistics support to UN experts who are currently conducting an investigation of a reported March 19 chemical attack in Khan al-Assal as well as alleged attacks in two other locations being kept secret for security reasons.
The UN team of chemical weapons investigators, headed by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, started working in Damascus on Monday.
“The experts will be allowed to question witnesses, victims and local officials,” Lukashevich said.
Moscow and Washington proposed in May to hold an international conference aimed at facilitating a solution to the Syrian crisis through political dialogue. At least 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since fighting broke out between government forces and rebels in March 2011.
The so-called Geneva-2 conference is designed to be a follow-up to last summer’s international meeting in Geneva during which a peace roadmap for Syria was drafted, including the establishment of a transitional government, with full executive powers and made up of members of the Assad regime and opposition groups.
Russia has repeatedly warned against further delaying the new conference on Syria because the peace terms set by the previous conference have never been implemented and the civil war continues to tear apart the once prosperous Arab nation.