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Syria rejects US, UK claims on chemical arms

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Syria dismissed as a "barefaced lie" on Saturday American and British claims it may have used chemical arms, as staunch ally Russia warned against using such fears to launch a military intervention in the strife-torn country.

"First of all, I want to confirm that statements by the US secretary of state and British government are inconsistent with reality and a barefaced lie," Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in an interview published on the Kremlin-funded Russia Today's website.

"I want to stress one more time that Syria would never use it -- not only because of its adherence to the international law and rules of leading war, but because of humanitarian and moral issues," Zohbi said.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon has called on Syria to approve a UN mission of inspectors to probe the alleged use of chemical weapons in the spiralling conflict that erupted in March 2011.

But Zohbi told RT Damascus could not trust UN inspectors from Britain and the United States.

"We do not trust the American and British experts from a political point of view," Zobhi said.

"We also do not trust their qualifications. Their aim is to juggle with facts."

But he said Syria would accept Russian inspectors.

"We won't mind if Russians would be among the experts; quite the contrary, we only welcome this idea. We are quite sure in their high qualification and ability to clearly see into such matters," he was quoted as saying.

Along with China, Russia has blocked several UN Security Council draft resolutions threatening sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

US President Barack Obama warned Syria on Friday that using chemical weapons would be a "game changer," after the US, Israel and Britain cited signs that Assad's regime attacked with the deadly agent sarin.

But Obama said Washington must act prudently, and establish exactly if, how and when such arms may have been used, promising a "vigorous" US and international probe into the latest reports.

"We have to act prudently. We have to make assessments deliberately," he cautioned.

Russia warned against using these reports for a military intervention in Syria.

"We must check the information immediately and in conformity with international criteria, and not use it to achieve other objectives. It must not be a pretext for an intervention in Syria," deputy foreign minister and Middle East envoy Mikhail Bogdanov said during a visit to Beirut on Saturday.

"We have the past experience of another violent intervention in Iraqi affairs under the pretext of the presence of nuclear weapons, and it turned out in the end that there was nothing," he added.

The spectre of the invasion of Iraq and subsequent conflict, which killed tens of thousands of Iraqis, looms large.

The Syrian opposition has stepped up pressure by urging the UN Security Council to take immediate steps, possibly even by imposing a no-fly zone on Syria.

And British Prime Minister David Cameron said the growing evidence that Assad had turned chemical agents on his own people was "extremely serious".

The fighting in Syria, which the UN says has killed more than 70,000 people so far, showed no signs of abating on Saturday.

At least 10 people were killed in shelling on the Syrian town of Douma, northeast of the capital Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Nearby, in Moadamiyet al-Sham, the group reported air raids and tank fire, as well as shelling of the Barzeh district of the capital, which has been under fire for three straight days.

Elsewhere, troops carried out air raids against parts of Damascus and Aleppo province and strikes were also reported in western Latakia and southern Daraa.

On Friday, at least 127 people were killed in violence throughout the country, according to a toll from the Observatory.

Analysts said Syria's neighbours face a growing risk of the conflict spilling across their region as Assad turns to ever more desperate acts to halt rebels.

They said Lebanon and Jordan will be the most vulnerable if the conflict spreads, while Iraq will also be affected along with Israel and Turkey.

"It is a very vulnerable region and there is a risk of escalation," said Anthony Skinner of British risk consultancy Maplecroft.

Indeed, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki alluded to Syria on Saturday, saying sectarian strife growing in his own country "came back to Iraq because it began in another place in this region."

"Sectarianism is evil, and the wind of sectarianism does not need a licence to cross from a country to another, because if it begins in a place, it will move to another place," he said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130427/syria-rejects-us-uk-claims-chemical-arms