Vilified by accusations of using a chemical bomb, Syria’s president intensified his counterpropaganda campaign on Thursday, suggesting that child actors had staged death scenes to malign him and that American warplanes had bombed a terrorist warehouse full of poison gases, killing hundreds of people.
In his first interview since an April 4 attack on the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed over 80 people, sickened hundreds and outraged the world, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria not only repeated the government’s denials of responsibility but contended without evidence that the episode had been fabricated as a pretext for an American retaliatory missile strike.
“We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun,” Mr. Assad told Agence France-Presse in the television interview from Damascus, which was recorded on Wednesday. “Were they dead at all?”
The decision by the increasingly isolated Syrian president to give an interview to a Western news organization appeared to reflect a calculation that his best option, even in the face of incriminating evidence, was to repeatedly deny responsibility for the attack, one of the worst in the six-year-old Syrian war.
Medical examiners in Turkey, where many of the Khan Sheikhoun victims were taken, have said that autopsies showed they had been attacked with sarin, a lethal nerve agent and a banned chemical weapon that Syria had claimed to have eradicated.
In a further sign that sarin was used, the British delegation to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global group that polices adherence to a treaty banning such munitions, said samples taken from the attack had tested positive for sarin, Reuters reported.
The organization said in a statement that its executive council was meeting to discuss the Khan Sheikhoun allegations, that its technical experts had determined the allegations were credible and that it had collected samples to be tested for analysis.
The interview with Mr. Assad was broadcast as the Syrian government’s news agency asserted without evidence that American warplanes had bombed what it called a chemical weapons cache possessed by Islamic State militants in Syria on Wednesday, leaving hundreds dead, including “a large number of civilians, due to suffocation caused by the inhalation of toxic materials.”
The news agency’s report showed no visual proof of an attack but said it had taken place in the village of Hatla in Deir al-Zour Province, causing a “white cloud that soon turned into yellow as a result of the explosion of a huge depot that includes a large amount of toxic materials.”
The description appeared intended to corroborate the Syrian government’s claims that all chemical weapons attacks in the war have been carried out by militant extremists.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Rick Gladstone