Washington is investigating Russia’s possible involvement in the chemical attack in Syria that prompted US President Donald Trump to launch the first direct military assault against the Bashar al-Assad regime. The Pentagon is looking for any evidence that Moscow knew about or was complicit in the attack in Idlib province that killed at least 80 people and injured dozens more, the CNN reported quoting a senior US defense official as saying.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said, “That is not true,” when CNN asked about US allegations that Russia may be complicit. On Friday, the United States launched dozens of Tomahawk to destroy the Shayrat airfield in Syria, believed by Washington be the base for warplanes that carried out the chemical attack on a rebel-held town on Tuesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the strike as “act of aggression” and said it violated international law. Russia earlier this week denied a chemical weapons attack took place in Syria saying the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun were caused by a Syrian regime airstrike on a rebel-controlled chemical weapons factory on the ground.
Western leaders backed the US action, saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had brought it on himself. The US military official said the Pentagon was examining specifically whether a Russian warplane had bombed a hospital in Khan Sheikhoun five hours after the initial chemical attack, with the aim of destroying evidence. A US defense official says intelligence shows a Russian drone flew over the hospital in Idlib that was treating victims of the chemical attack, prior to the site being later bombed by an unknown aircraft.
The Russians operate drones in the area routinely so the Pentagon cannot be certain the drone operator even knew what was happening, but the drone was a Russian asset. The US military has a variety of classified technical means to determine who is operating aircraft in the region. Approximately 20 Syrian regime planes were destroyed in the US strike, according to two US senior military officials.
Reacting to the US strike Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Washington had carried out an “unjust and unabashed assault” against Syria which “shows nothing but short-sightedness, a narrowness of vision and blindness to political and military realities.” A statement from Syria’s general military command said the strikes caused “extensive material damage” and undermined counter-terror operations by the Syrian Army.