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'Obscene masquerade' as Russia denies chemical attack

Russian diplomats brought several Syrian “witnesses” – including an 11-year-old boy – to the global chemical weapons watchdog in a bid to prove chemical weapons were not used in Douma.

At a joint press conference with Syrian officials at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Russian diplomats accused the White Helmets humanitarian group of filming “staged videos” following the suspected attack in the Syrian city on 7 April.

The Syrians claimed they did not see any evidence that a chemical attack had taken place.

The briefing in the Netherlands was boycotted by the UK, France and the US and described as an “obscene masquerade”.

Several of the 17 Syrian eyewitnesses brought to The Hague by the Russians said they saw “no symptoms” of a chemical attack and that “everyone was fine”.

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Ambassador Shulgin (L) and 11-year-old Hassan Diab, (R) at the briefing
Image:Ambassador Shulgin (l), a Syrian official, and 11-year-old Hassan Diab at the briefing
Russian ambassador to OPCW
Video:Chemical attack claims ‘evil’, says Russia

Russian ambassador Alexander Shulgin said he wanted to present “evidence” and disprove allegations that the Syrian government had carried out a chemical attack.

The apparent witnesses, which included medics at the hospital in Douma, claimed there was no smell of chemicals and that people who were choking had inhaled smoke and dust from a bombardment.

The child among the witnesses, Hassan Diab, who was seen in footage being doused with water in the aftermath of the incident, said he was told to go to hospital.

“We were in the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to the hospital, so when we were in the hospital – we went there through the tunnels – at the hospital they started pouring water on me, cold water,” he said.

Video:Russia ups the ante and blames alleged Syria gas attack on UK

His father added: “My wife explained that the children were brought to the hospital without asking their parents, later we found out this was fake. Absolutely no evidence of chemical weapons and my family members are feeling well.”

A week after the reported chemical weapons attack, the UK, the US and France launched joint airstrikes on three locations allegedly related to the production of chemical weapons.

Britain’s ambassador to the OPCW branded the briefing at the organisation’s Hague headquarters a “stunt”.

A picture taken during a Syrian army-organised tour on April 20, 2018 shows a man walking down a street past destruction in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on the outskirts of the capital Damascus
Image:Syria and Russia say chemical weapons were not used in Douma

“The OPCW is not a theatre. Russia’s decision to misuse it is yet another Russian attempt to undermine the OPCW’s work,” the UK’s ambassador, Peter Wilson, said.

France’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Philippe Lalliot added: “This obscene masquerade does not come as a surprise from the Syrian government, which has massacred and gassed its own people for the last seven years.”

Mr Shulgin said the countries behind the joint airstrikes were “afraid to look the truth in the face, they’re afraid to look in the eyes of small Hassan” and that “nothing stings worse than the truth”.

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Video:How did the strikes unfold?

He added later that the US and the UK were “throwing around baseless accusations based on some absurd logic and using social networks and non-existing people as sources”.

“You saw real people, medics, doctors, professionals, as well as a patient who was on that film, and they told you the real story of what really happened,” he said.

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Thursday’s press conference comes as OPCW inspectors visited Douma for the second time on Wednesday to collect further samples after the Syrian government was widely condemned by the West over the attack.

Syria continues to deny using chemical weapons.

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