Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has dismissed as “bogus stories” the recent reports of an alleged chemical attack in the militant-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Syrian capital city of Damascus, stressing that government forces have attacked foreign-sponsored Takfiri terrorists there.
“There are already bogus stories in the media that yesterday chlorine was used in Eastern Ghouta, citing an anonymous individual living in the United States,” Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow on Monday.
His remarks came two days after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution on a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. The document, however, did not specify when the truce would go into effect.
“On the instructions of the Russian president, with the goal of avoiding civilian casualties in Eastern Ghouta, from February 27 — tomorrow — from 9.00 to 14.00 local time there will be a humanitarian pause,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a ministry meeting in the capital Moscow on Monday.
Putin was also quoted as saying that there should be similar pauses in the southeastern Syrian town of al-Tanf in Homs province and in Rukban, near the Jordanian border “so that civilians can return to their homes unhindered and begin to rebuild their civilian lives.”
The announcement came two days after the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution demanding a 30-day truce in Syria “without delay” to allow aid access and medical evacuations.
Lavrov added that militant groups affiliated with the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham Takfiri terrorist group, formerly known as al-Nusra Front, were operating inside Eastern Ghouta.
“This makes Nusra’s partners unprotected by the ceasefire. They are also subject to actions by the Syrian air force,” the top Russian diplomat pointed out.
The White Helmets, a so-called rescue group that has been documented to have ties with anti-Damascus militant groups as well as Western and Persian Gulf Arab governments backing the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, claims that Syrian government forces have deployed chlorine gas against the town of al-Shifoniya town in Eastern Ghouta, killing one child and causing “widespread suffocation” among the local civilians.
The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights later said 14 civilians had suffered breathing difficulties after a Syrian warplane struck the Eastern Ghouta region.
The London-based monitor group quoted victims, ambulance drivers and others as saying that they had smelt chlorine after “an enormous explosion” in the area.
“At least 18 victims were treated with oxygen nebulizing sessions,” Reuters news agency quoted an unidentified militant source as saying.
Russian Defense Ministry had earlier warned that militant groups in Eastern Ghouta were preparing a false flag attack in a bid to blame the Damascus government for using chemical weapons against civilians.
“Evidence has shown that the leaders of illegal armed formations in Eastern Ghouta are preparing a provocation using poisonous agents in order to accuse Syrian government forces of using chemical weapons against its civilians,” the ministry said in a statement.
Eastern Ghouta, a besieged area on the outskirts of Damascus which is home to some 400,000 people, has witnessed deadly violence over the past few days, with foreign-sponsored terrorists launching mortar attacks on the Syrian capital in the face of an imminent humiliating defeat.
The Syrian government surrendered its stockpiles of chemical weapons in 2014 to a joint mission led by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversaw the destruction of the weaponry.
Western governments and their allies however have never stopped pointing the finger at Damascus whenever an apparent chemical attack has taken place.
Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding Takfiri terrorist groups that are wreaking havoc in the country.