Russia, Syria blame Israel for airbase strike after ‘chemical attack’ in Douma

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A handout image released by the Syrian Civil Defence on April 8, 2018, shows bodies inside a room following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma. AFP

DAMASCUS (AFP) –Syria and Russia accused Israel yesterday of carrying out a deadly bombing raid on a Syrian military airport, as calls grew for international action over an alleged chemical attack on a rebel held-town.

Britain was the latest country to urge a “strong” response to accusations that dozens of people were killed by poison gas in Douma, a battered opposition-held town near the capital.

The escalating pressure came as Damascus and Moscow blamed Israel for an early morning missile strike on Syria’s T-4 airbase.

Syrian state news agency SANA said Israeli F-15 aircraft had fired several missiles at the base from Lebanese territory.

Russia’s army said a pair of Israeli F-15s had fired eight missiles at the base. Five were destroyed by air defence systems but three hit a western part of the facility, it said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the raid a “very dangerous development”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country’s conflict, said 14 fighters were killed, including Syrian army officers and Iranian forces.

Forces from regime backers Russia and Iran, as well as fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, are known to have a presence at T-4, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

Both Washington and Paris denied carrying out yesterday’s raid.

Israel has previously targeted Iranian units in Syria, but declined to comment on the latest strike.

Syria has been accused multiple times of using toxic weapons including sarin gas in the country’s seven-year war, which has killed more than 350,000 people.

Pressure was mounting over the latest accusations that it killed dozens of people on Saturday with a toxic gas attack on Douma, the last rebel-held town in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of the capital.

Rescuers and medics said at least 48 people died after showing symptoms consistent with exposure to “poisonous chlorine gas,” including foaming at the mouth and difficulty breathing.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for a “strong and robust international response” to the attack.

US President Donald Trump had warned there would be a “big price to pay” for the attack, and had vowed with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to react strongly.

The UN’s chemical weapons watchdog said it had made a preliminary analysis of the reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons immediately after they were issued.

Russia said yesterday it had carried out its own probe and concluded there was no evidence.

Syria and Russia have fiercely denounced the allegations of chemical use in Douma as “fabrications,” and had warned against using them to justify military action against President Bashar al-Assad.

Lebanon’s National News Agency yesterday said Israeli warplanes were flying near the country’s border with Syria.

Mr Assad has waged a seven-week assault on Ghouta that has killed more than 1,700 civilians and left Islamist rebels cornered in their last holdout of Douma.

After capturing most of Ghouta with a military assault, Syria and its ally Russia secured two negotiated withdrawals last month that saw 46,000 rebels and civilians evacuate.

On Sunday, a deal was reached for Jaish al-Islam to leave Douma within 48 hours and release hostages it was holding.

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