Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday insisted his regime was not involved in a deadly chemical weapons attack in northern Syria last week, saying the accusations were completely fabricated.
“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication,” Assad told Agence France Presse in an interview. “Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack.”
The U.S. and other countries have alleged that the chemical strike on Syria’s Idlib Province that killed more than 80 civilians was carried out by the Syrian regime.
President Trump ordered a retaliatory missile strike on a Syrian military air base last Thursday that was widely hailed by world leaders, but forcefully condemned by Assad and Russia, one of the authoritarian leader’s biggest supporters.
The Assad regime and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin have sought to discredit the U.S. response as an act of aggression and to place blame for the chemical attack on terrorist groups operating in the country.
CNN reported Wednesday, though, that the U.S. intelligence community had intercepted communications in which the Syrian military and chemical weapons experts discussed preparations for chemical strike.
Some U.S. officials have questioned whether Russia knew about the attack or was complicit in some way, though no intercepted communications have yet supported that suspicion.
Also Wednesday, Russia blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the attack, using its veto power as one of the council’s five permanent members. It marked the eighth time Russia has vetoed a resolution on Syria since the beginning of the country’s civil war in 2011.
If Assad’s regime did carry out the attack, it would not be the first time it used chemical weapons on Syrian citizens. A similar attack in 2013 killed more than 1,000 people and prompted an agreement, in which the Assad regime vowed to dispose of its chemical weapons.
But that effort ultimately fell short, and the U.S. has assessed that the Syrian government has restarted its chemical weapons program.