Russia-US tensions — latest updates: UK labels Moscow claims chemical attack in Syria was 'staged and directed by Britain' as 'ludicrous'

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Russia’s military has claimed to have evidence that Britain had “direct involvement” in staging a suspected chemical attack in Syria, a charge quickly condemned as “grotesque” by the UK.

Humanitarian volunteers were “seriously pressured” by the UK to speed up plans for a “provocation” in eastern Ghouta, the Moscow’s defence ministry suggested.

Britain’s ambassador to the UN condemned the “blatant lie” as “the worst piece of fake news we’ve yet seen from the Russian propaganda machine”.

It comes as Russia and the United States trade fresh blows during the latest round of talks at the UN Security Council and amid warnings that the world is at risk of “full-blown military escalation”.

Live Updates

12 mins ago

The UK Foreign Office said accusations made by Moscow that Britain directed the attack on Douma were “ludicrous”.

A spokesman said: “Russia has wielded its UNSC veto six times since February 2017 to shield the Assad regime from scrutiny for its use of chemical weapons.

“These accusations from Moscow are just the latest in a number of ludicrous allegations from Russia, who have also said that no attack ever happened.

“This simply shows their desperation to pin the blame on anyone but their client: the Assad regime.

“The chemical weapons attack in Douma last Saturday was a shocking and barbaric act that cost up to 75 lives including young children.” 

30 mins ago

Theresa May is set to inform MPs about military action against Syria regime, and will use David Cameron’s 2015 statement on a drone killing British jihadis in Syria as a template.

The Independent‘s political editor Joe Watts has more: 

Theresa May is set to inform MPs about military action against the Assad regime, in the same way David Cameron did after a UK drone killed British jihadis in Syria three years ago.

34 mins ago

A Labour MP has handed a letter to Downing Street signed by politicians, trade unionists, celebrities and academics who are urging Theresa May not to take military action in Syria.

The handover of the letter, co-ordinated by the Stop the War Coalition, was marked with a protest in Whitehall.

Ms Dent Coad, MP for Kensington, said the current case for intervention was based on supposition and called for any military action to be put to a Parliamentary vote.

She added: “Syria has been bombed to bits already. Are we really going to go in and finish the job for Assad? I think that’s really frightening.

“There’s no precision bombing in Syria. It’s so overlapping. There’s no good guys and bad guys – everybody is mixed up together.

“If we bomb airbases, we could be bombing Russians. We are at the brink of something really frightening.

“We have to have proper evidence, we have to know what we’re doing.”

40 mins ago

Russia’s UN ambassador says the United States appears to have adopted a policy to “unleash a military scenario against Syria,” saying Moscow continues to observe “dangerous” military preparations. 
Vassily Nebenzia told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday that “bellicose rhetoric is being ratcheted up at all levels, including at the highest levels.” 
He said these developments “cannot be tolerated” and are “fraught with grave repercussions for global security,” especially with Russian troops deployed in Syria. 
Mr Nebenzia said it was “unworthy” of the United States “to saber rattle.” 

1 hour ago

The UN’s secretary-general today sounded an ominous tone over the growing global tensions, warning the world is at risk of full-blown military escalation”.

Reporter Mythili Sampathkumar has the full story: 

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said the world is at risk for “full-blown military escalation” over the latest suspected chemical attack in Syria. 

1 hour ago

Britain’s ambassador to the UN has described the Russian military’s claims that Britain orchestrated the chemical attack in Syria as “a blatant lie”.

“This is grotesque, it is a blatant lie, it is the worst piece of fake news we’ve yet seen from the Russian propaganda machine,” Karen Pierce told reporters as she left an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

She added wanted to “state categorically” that “Britain has no involvement and would never have any involvement in the use of a chemical weapon”.

1 hour ago

The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group has said Israel’s air strikes on a Syrian military base have put the country in “a direct fight with Iran”.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah described Israel’s missiles, which killed some Iranian Revolutionary Guards forces, as a “historic mistake”.

“They have committed a great folly and have put themselves into a direct fight with Iran,” he said in a televised speech.

He also dismissed Donald Trump’s threat to launch missiles at Syria as “Hollywood”, adding: “All these tweets and threats… do not scare Syria, Iran, Russia nor any of the resistance movements in the region.”

2 hours ago

France’s ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre, was a little more forthright in telling the Security Council that the Syrian government’s decision to use chemical weapons again meant they had “reached a point of no return”.

The world must provide a “robust, united and steadfast response”, he said.

Since 2015 France has carried out air strikes against jihadi group Isis in Syria as part of allied forces linked to the US-led coalition, conducting about five per cent of total coalition air missions.

2 hours ago

While US President Donald Trump himself remained silent on Syria on Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron – who has said France has proof that Assad’s government used chemical weapons in the attack in Douma – spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Elysee palace said in a statement that Mr Macron had also expressed regret about Russia’s use of its Security Council veto on the alleged chemical attack. Striking a conciliatory note, it said: “The President of the Republic called for dialogue with Russia to be maintained and stepped up to bring peace and stability back to Syria.”
 

2 hours ago

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says a first team of international chemical weapons investigators have arrived in Syria, with a second team to arrive on Friday or Saturday

3 hours ago

The Russian military has claimed an alleged chemical attack in Syria was staged and directed by Britain.

Volunteer first responders and activists said a chemical attack by the Syrian government killed more than 40 people in the town of Douma, which drew international outrage and prompted Washington and its allies to consider a military response.

Moscow warned against any strikes and threatened to retaliate.

Russian Defence Ministry spokesman, Major General Igor Konashenkov, released statements by medics from Douma’s hospital who said a group of people toting video cameras entered the hospital, shouting that its patients had been struck with chemical weapons and causing panic.

The medics said none of the patients were hurt by chemicals.

Maj Gen Konashenkov said Britain was “directly involved in the provocation”.

3 hours ago

Nikki Haley did not take kindly to Mr Nebenzia’s address, saying:

“I’m in awe that you can say what you say, Vassily, with a straight face. I really am.”

3 hours ago

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council that the United States, France and Britain were only interested in ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and containing Russia.

“We continue to observe dangerous military preparations for an illegal act of force against a sovereign state in what would constitute a breach of international law,” he said. “We call on the leadership of these states to immediately reconsider.”

“The sole thing they have an interest in is to oust the Syrian government and more broadly to contain the Russian Federation,”€ he said

3 hours ago

As US Defense Secretary James Mattis has also repeatedly said – Russia has failed to guarantee the removal of chemical weapons in Syria, under a 2013 agreement and in fact “it did the opposite” Ms Haley says.

The US estimates that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons 50 times in Syria – with public estimates as high as 200, Ms Haley adds. 

3 hours ago

“It is Russia alone that used its veto six times to prevent the condemnation of use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Ms Haley says.

She then says Russia used its Security Council veto 12 times, to protect the Assad regime.

3 hours ago

“No country can be allowed to use chemical weapons with impunity,” she adds – saying all of the UN agrees on that.

3 hours ago

“We must not stay silent in the face of chemical weapons use in our own time,” says Ms Haley recalls previous chemical use during war

3 hours ago

There should be no rush to launch military action on Syria, but ‘at one point you have to do something’, Ms Haley tells the Council

3 hours ago

Ms Haley says the apparent chemical attack is a break with “all morality”.

3 hours ago

After the Russian ambassador took a turn – again denying the chemical attack, US Ambassador to the UN – Nikki Haley is now speaking.

In a statement, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister spoke to President Trump about Syria this evening.

“They agreed that the Assad regime had established a pattern of dangerous behaviour in relation to the use of chemical weapons.

“They agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged, and on the need to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

“They agreed to keep working closely together on the international response.”

Jeremy Corbyn condemns Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Syria: ‘More war will not save life’

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, accused the government of “waiting for instructions” from the United States and said military intervention risks “escalating an already devastating conflict”.

Mr Corbyn said: “Further UK military intervention in Syria’s appalling multi-sided war risks escalating an already devastating conflict.

“The Government appears to be waiting for instructions from President Donald Trump on how to proceed. But the US administration is giving alarmingly contradictory signals.

USS-donald-cook.jpg

The guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook is reportedly sailing towards Syria. The Arleigh Burke-class warship carries on board some 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles (EPA)

“Even US defence secretary James Mattis has said we ‘don’t have evidence’ and warned further military action could ‘escalate out of control’.”

Mr Mattis has warned an attack carried the risk of spinning out of control, suggesting caution ahead of a decision on how to respond to the situation. 

The White House has said it was still assessing the evidence surrounding the suspected chemical weapons attack after its security council meeting on Thursday.

However, although Mr Mattis noted military action carried risks, he also emphasised the use of chemical weapons by Syria should not be tolerated. 

The US, France and Britain have been in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week. 

France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said they had “proof” the Syrian regime launched chlorine gas attacks and said his country would not tolerate “regimes that think everything is permitted.”

Emmanual Macron says France has proof the Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in Syria

The No 10 statement issued following the Cabinet meeting said Ms May had again described the attack on Douma as a “shocking and barbaric act” which represented a further erosion of international law.

“Cabinet agreed that the Assad regime has a track record of the use of chemical weapons and it is highly likely that the regime is responsible for Saturday’s attack,” it said.

“Following a discussion in which every member present made a contribution, Cabinet agreed it was vital that the use of chemical weapons did not go unchallenged.

“Cabinet agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”

The statement made no reference to whether Parliament would be given a say on military action – prompting renewed concerns among opposition parties and some Tory MPs Ms May is prepared to go ahead without a Commons vote.

Mr Corbyn insisted MPs were entitled to a vote, saying Parliament “must be consulted”.

syria-chemical-attack.jpg

A medical worker giving a toddler oxygen through respirators following a suspected poison gas attack in the opposition-held town of Douma (Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP)

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow international development secretary unexpectedly backed intervention and suggested Mr Corbyn should stop making statements on foreign policy and instead leave the job to his shadow ministers.

Moscow’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, said he “cannot exclude” war between the US and Russia. He urged Washington and its allies to refrain from military action against Syria, saying the immediate priority was to “avert the danger of war.”

A team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is due to start its investigation in Syria on Saturday.

On Friday campaigners from the Stop the War Coalition will hand a letter signed by MPs, trade unionists, celebrities and academics to Downing Street urging Ms May to not take military action in Syria.

Additional reporting by agencies

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