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Kremlin Urges U.S. Not To Strike Syria


Russian Ambassador to the UN Vasily Nebenzya

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has urged the United States not to conduct a missile strike on Syria, saying that such an attack could "substantially destabilize" the Middle East.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov's remarks on April 11 echoed statements by other Russian officials who have warned the United States not to launch strikes targeting Syrian government forces in response to a suspected poison-gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus.

The United States and some of its allies are considering whether to hit Syria over what medical-relief organizations say was a chemical attack that killed dozens of people in Douma on April 7.

"As for the question of what will happen if there is some kind of strike...we would like to hope that all sides will avoid any steps that a) are not provoked by anything and b) could substantially destabilize the already fragile situation in the region,” Peskov said in a regular conference call with reporters.

He declined to comment directly on remarks by Russia's ambassador to Lebanon, who on April 10 repeated a warning from the military that any U.S. missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and that that the launch vehicles would be targeted.

Peskov also reiterated Russian denials that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces carried out a poison-gas attack on Douma, saying that "Russia categorically disagrees with this [claim]" and wants a "dispassionate investigation" into the incident, which killed at least 40 people, including children.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to make the perpetrators of the suspected Douma attack pay a "big price," on April 10 canceled a planned trip to South America so he could focus on the Syria situation. The Syrian Army put its forces on alert for a three-day period, while a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, has been sighted in the Mediterranean within striking distance of Syria.

Reuters and TASS reported late on April 10 that the pan-European air-traffic control agency is warning airlines to exercise caution in the eastern Mediterranean "due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours."

On April 10, Russia's UN ambassador pleaded with the United States not to stage a military strike against Syria after competing U.S. and Russian calls for investigations into the suspected attack in Douma failed to win approval in the UN Security Council.

Russia used its veto power in the council to block a U.S.-drafted resolution that would have established an independent investigative body to determine who is behind alleged chemical attacks in Syria, which the council had approved by 12-2. China, usually Russia's ally, abstained in the vote.

"History will record that, on this day, Russia chose protecting a monster over the lives of the Syrian people," U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, referring to Assad.

Haley said the United States "went the extra mile" to get Russian support for the resolution to ensure that a new investigative body would be impartial, independent, and professional -- provisions she said were not in two rival Russian resolutions that failed to win the nine votes needed for passage in the 15-member council.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, accused the United States of setting up the council votes, knowing that both measures would be defeated, and then using their defeat as a "pretext" to "justify the use of force against Syria."

Russia's veto of the U.S. proposal was the 12th time that Russia has used its veto power to block action targeting Syria.

The U.S. proposal would have revived the work of a previous UN panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, that shut down in November after Russian vetoed a resolution to renew its mandate.

That panel concluded that the Syrian Air Force dropped the deadly nerve agent sarin on the village of Khan Sheikhun in April 2017, killing nearly 100 people.

The Khan Sheikhun attack prompted Trump to order U.S. missile strikes on the Syrian airfield where he claimed the government's planes launched the attack.

The damage from the U.S. missile strikes did not deter Syria in the last year from gaining the upper hand in its seven-year civil war, but Western countries say such air strikes are intended as "punishment" for Syria crossing a "red line" by using globally banned chemical weapons.

Syria has denied using chemical weapons anywhere in the country, despite the now-defunct UN panel's findings that Damascus was behind several documented chemical attacks there since 2014.

The international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said on April 10 that it was sending a team of experts to the site of the Douma attack to gather evidence and determine whether it involved banned chemical weapons.

Trump has consulted with the leaders of France and Britain on a possible response to the suspected attack.

The White House said that Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May on April 10 "agreed not to allow the use of chemical weapons to continue" in a telephone call.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that any strikes by Western powers would not target the Syrian government's allies, which include Iran and Russia, but rather would be aimed at the Syrian government's chemical facilities.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said the Syrian Army has put all of its military facilities, including airports and bases, on alert for the next three days.

With reporting by Interfax, Reuters, and AFP
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