The Latest: Russia voices support for Syria chemical probe

The Latest: Russia voices support for Syria chemical probe
The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

10:30 p.m.

Russia says it strongly supports international inspectors’ visit to the site of a suspected chemical attack in Syria.

The Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, dismissed allegations that Russia was trying to hamper the mission by experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Syrian activists say more than 40 people were killed in the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, which they blamed on government forces. The attack prompted the U.S., Britain and France to launch Saturday’s missile strikes on Syria.

Syria and its ally Russia have denied any chemical attack took place, and Moscow accused Syrian rebels of fabricating the attack with British assistance, a claim Britain has rejected.

The Russian military claimed Tuesday it found rebel chemical weapons stockpiles in Douma, including chlorine and mustard gas precursors.

Syrian state TV says the OPCW team entered Douma on Tuesday, after days of delays by Syrian and Russian authorities.

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7:10 p.m.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister says the kingdom is in talks with the Trump administration about sending forces into Syria, and that this proposal has been under discussion since the Obama administration.

Adel al-Jubeir told reporters Tuesday: “We are in discussions with the U.S. and have been since the beginning of this crisis about sending forces into Syria.”

He says Saudi Arabia has also offered to send forces from a mostly Sunni bloc of Muslim nations established by the kingdom to fight terrorism. He says the Obama administration did not take them up on either offer.

The kingdom has backed and helped arm Sunni rebel groups fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces, which are backed by Shiite-majority Iran. Saudi Arabia is also a member of the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State group.

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6:50 p.m.

Premier Paolo Gentiloni has told Italy’s new parliament that Italy stands firmly by the United States, France and Britain in the decision to launch strikes against Syria aimed at disabling the use of chemical weapons.

Gentiloni told lawmakers in Rome on Tuesday that “Italy is not a neutral country that choses each time which side to take between the Atlantic alliance and Russia. It is a coherent ally of the United States, and not of this or that American administration.”

Italy’s role in any military action has been especially politically sensitive given the impasse in forming a new government after last month’s elections ended with a hung parliament. The leader of the center-right coalition, Matteo Salvini, has come out against the strikes.

Gentiloni specified that Italy gave logistical support to the operation from the joint air base in Aviano on the condition that “no actions aimed at striking Syria would depart from our territory. And so it was.”

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6:20 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on the Syrian government to ensure international chemical weapons inspectors are able to work without restrictions.

Earlier Tuesday, Syria’s state news agency said inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had reached the town of Douma to investigate a suspected April 7 gas attack.

Guterres said “it’s the obligation of the Syrian government to provide all the conditions for them to work without any restrictions.”

He stopped short of confirming whether the inspectors were able to reach Douma, telling reporters in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday that the U.N. has done “everything possible to make sure that the OPCW experts will be able to get to Douma sooner rather than later.”

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5:55 p.m.

The Russian military says that it has found rebel chemical weapons stockpiles in the Syrian town hit by a suspected chemical attack.

Alexander Rodionov of the military’s chemical weapons protection unit said Tuesday its experts found chlorine and components for producing mustard gas at a rebel laboratory in Douma.

Syrian activists blamed the Syrian government for the April 7 chemical attack in Douma, which they said killed over 40 people. Rodionov said the canister with chlorine was similar to the one shown in images released by activists.

The attack prompted the U.S., Britain and France to launch Saturday’s strike on Syria. Syria and its ally Russia denied any chemical attack took place, and Moscow has accused rebels of feigning a chemical attack with British assistance, a claim Britain has rejected.

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5:30 p.m.

Turkish officials say Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for a scaling down of tensions over the chemical weapons issue in Syria during a call with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.

The officials said Erdogan and Rouhani held a telephone conversation on Tuesday during which the Turkish leaders said actions increasing tensions should be avoided.

The two also agreed that Turkey, Iran and Russia should continue to work together for a political solution to the conflict in Syria.

The officials provided the information on condition of anonymity, in line with government regulations.

Turkey has backed the weekend’s strikes on Syria by the United States, France and Britain.

— Suzan Fraser in Ankara.

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4:40 p.m.

Syria’s state news agency says inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have reached the town of Douma to investigate reports of a suspected April 7 gas attack.

The inspectors entered Douma on Tuesday after arriving in Syria on Saturday.

The United States, Britain, and France say the Syrian government was behind the attack, and launched a wave of missiles targeting Syrian military installations on Saturday as punishment.

Syria and its ally Russia deny any chemical attack took place, and Russian officials have gone even further, accusing Britain of staging a “fake” chemical attack.

Douma was the last town held by rebels in the eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, until they surrendered the day after the alleged gas attack.

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2:30 p.m.

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin has told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the United States, Great Britain and France have violated international law and hurt the peace process in Syria by launching airstrikes at targets in Damascus.

Russia has condemned the allied strikes on Sunday but refrained from responding to the attack on its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday in a read-out of the phone call between Putin and Merkel that the prospect for peace talks for Syria were damaged by the airstrikes, which were carried out in retaliation for the reported poison gas attack on a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus.

A fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is due to visit the site of the suspected gas attack. The Kremlin said on Tuesday both Putin and Merkel support the OPCW mission and hope for a thorough probe.

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2:20 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron has vigorously defended his decision to launch airstrikes on Syria, responding to criticism on the joint operation by France, Britain and the United States.

He spoke at the European parliament on Tuesday, showing signs of anger and sometimes almost shouting.

Macron cited all those “who are outraged each time by images we’ve seen of children, women who died of a chlorine attack.”

He asked: “Do we sit back, do we defend (human) rights by saying: rights are for us, principles are for us, and realities are for other? No, no!”

He says the U.S., France and Britain intervened in a “legitimate, multilateral framework” and stressed airstrikes specifically targeted three chemical weapon facilities “without any human life loss.”

Some European lawmakers expressed criticism at France’s action in Syria, raising placards reading “Stop the war in Syria” and “Hands off Syria” during Macron’s speech.

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12:45 p.m.

Syria’s state run television says a false alarm — and not an outside aggression and incoming airstrikes — had set off Syrian air defenses early this morning.

The TV quotes an unnamed military official as saying on Tuesday that air defenses fired a number of missiles because of a false alarm, without providing more information.

Hours earlier, Syrian government-run media said the country’s air defenses confronted a new “aggression,” shooting down missiles over the central region of Homs and a suburb of Damascus.

The reports did not say who carried out the pre-dawn strikes, which were reported by Syrian state TV and the government-run Syrian Central Media.

The reports came just a few days after the United States, Britain and France conducted airstrikes targeting alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria, in retaliation for a suspected poisonous gas attack.

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10:40 a.m.

The Group of Seven leading industrialized nations has issued a joint statement endorsing the U.S.-led air strikes in Syria.

The leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, the United States and European Union said in a joint statement early Tuesday that they condemn the April 7 chemical attack in eastern Ghouta in Syria.

The G-7 say they “fully support all efforts made by the United States, the United Kingdom and France to degrade the (Bashar) Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons and to deter any future use” with the strikes.

The say the airstrikes last Saturday by the three nations were “limited, proportionate and necessary” and followed “only after exhausting every possible diplomatic option to uphold the international norm against the use of chemical weapons.”

The G-7 members say they “remain committed to a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria.”

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8:30 a.m.

Syrian state-run television has reported that the country’s defenses have confronted a new “aggression,” shooting down missiles over the central Homs region.

It didn’t say who carried out the early Tuesday airstrikes. The Syrian Central Media said the missiles targeted Shayrat air base in Homs. Another strike earlier this month in Homs was blamed on Israel.

The report comes a few days after the U.S., Britain and France conducted airstrikes targeting alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack that they blamed on the Syrian government.

Experts from the international chemical weapons watchdog are in Syria and are now expected to visit that site in the town of Douma Wednesday. That’s after Syrian and Russian authorities prevented them from going to the scene Monday.

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