Syria agrees to halt fire for chemical attack probe: Russia

AFP , Monday 24 Apr 2017

Syria's military is ready to halt fire around the rebel-held town hit by a suspected chemical attack if experts are sent in to conduct a probe, Russia's defence ministry said Monday.

"The command of the Syrian armed forces has expressed readiness to cease hostilities in Khan Sheikhun if a special mission of experts is sent there to investigate the events of April 4," the defence ministry said in a statement.

Moscow added that Damascus was "ready to declare a complete moratorium on the activities of its troops, aviation and artillery in the area" if investigators were sent in and also that they would be granted access to the Shayrat airbase allegedly used to launch the attack.

The Damascus regime itself however has not made any official announcement on the matter.

A suspected chemical attack left 87 dead, including many children, in rebel-held territory in Idlib province on April 4, with the West accusing Moscow's ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of being responsible.

The Kremlin has consistently sought to deflect blame from Damascus over the incident, pointing the finger of blame at rebels and fiercely decrying a punitive missile strike by the United States against the Shayrat airbase.

Russia has also attempted to cast doubt on a probe being carried out by the OPCW global chemical weapons watchdog, criticising the organisation for purported bias and not sending experts to the scene of the alleged attack in war-torn Syria.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) last week rejected a move from Assad backers Russia and Iran to launch a new investigation into the incident.

Moscow's attempts to start a new probe came as OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu said that "incontrovertible" test results showed sarin gas or a similar substance was used.

As the wrangling goes on over the suspected chemical attack, Damascus has continued to carry out deadly strikes against the rebel-held region.

Five people were killed and several people injured Monday after air strikes targeted Khan Sheikhun's market, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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