"To organize provocations, representatives of the French and Belgian secret services arrived in Idlib. Under their supervision, a meeting was held with the field commanders of the terrorist groups of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras Al-Din, as well as with the representatives of the pseudo-humanitarian organization ‘White helmets’", Maj. Gen. Viktor Kupchishin said at a news briefing.
At the meeting, the attendees discussed organization of staged film shoots, which would falsely depict Russia and Syria using chemical agents against civilians, according to the center.
"For participation in filming of scenes depicting the effects of the use of poisonous substances, payments were set at $100 per person. At the same time, it is possible that organizers used real toxic substances in order to achieve ‘authenticity’ of photo and video materials", Kupchishin underlined, adding that refugees and families held by the terrorist groups could have been forced to take part in the staged shoots.
"From 14 March to 27 March 2019, the representatives of the Belgian secret services recorded strikes on video, which the Russian Aerospace Forces targeted at terror groups' arms depots and footholds of drones on the territory of the Idlib de-escalation zone, in order to subsequently present them as an ‘evidence’ of the use of chemical weapons", Kupchishin stressed.
"On 23 March, under the supervision of French intelligence [officers], canisters, made to look like they contained regular oxygen and household gas, but containing a poisonous, supposedly chlorine-based, substance, were transferred from Saraqib to the towns of Khan Sheikhoun, Maaret Horma and Kafer Zaita (all in the northeastern Idlib province)", Kupchishin said.
Kupchishin stressed that the Russian reconciliation center called on the leaders of armed militant groups to abandon all armed provocations and to step onto the path toward a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the areas under their control.
Syria was plunged in a military conflict in 2011. Victory over the Daesh terrorist group was declared in late 2017, and the political settlement as well as the return of refugees and rebuilding have come to the forefront since then.
However, despite progress in the withdrawal of weapons and fighters from the area, remaining militants regularly commit ceasefire violations by shelling nearby provinces. Moreover, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in January that the Nusra Front had taken over around 70 percent of the demilitarized zone.
The Nusra Front reportedly ceased to exist in 2017 after the militants split into several rebel groups that continued to follow terrorist ideologies. One of them merged with other extremist organizations to become Tahrir al-Sham. Nusra, its affiliates and associates and the groups it has merged with are designated as terrorist organizations by a number of counties, including the United States, Russia and Canada, as well as the United Nations Security Council.
* Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/IS/the Islamic State), Al-Nusra Front, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham are terrorist groups banned in Russia and many other countries.