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Putin dismisses ‘speculation’ on Syria suspected chemical attack

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday warned against speculation and “provocation” over the suspected chemical weapons attack in Syrian rebel-held Douma, the Kremlin said.

“The leaders exchanged opinions on the situation in Syria including the accusations against Damascus by a number of Western countries of using chemical weapons,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“The Russian side stressed the unacceptability of provocation and speculation on this matter.”

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert in a statement confirmed that “the situation in Syria was discussed” and Merkel “condemned the new gas attacks in the Syrian city of Douma.”

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier in the day warned that “making any deductions is wrong and dangerous” over the apparent poison gas attack on Douma.

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Peskov suggested that rebels could have staged the attack themselves to pin the blame on Damascus, something that Russia has recently warned could happen.

“Both the president and the defence ministry, citing intelligence sources, have spoken about such a provocation being prepared,” Peskov said.

He added that this could mean the rebels carried out an attack using chemical weapons or spread rumours of such an attack.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russian specialists had found no trace of a chemical attack on Douma, the largest town in the Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.

The Russian defence ministry on Monday released a statement saying that its officials in Syria including military doctors had viewed the site of the reported attack and visited hospitals and found “a lack of any traces of use of poisonous substances.”

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It accused the White Helmets, which act as first responders in rebel-held areas of Syria, of disseminating faked reports.

“All the accusations of the ‘White Helmets’ and also the photos and videos of the alleged victims of a chemical attack, disseminated by them on social media, are just yet another fake and an attempt to derail the truce reached,” the defence ministry said.

After capturing most of Ghouta, Syria and Russia secured two negotiated withdrawals last month that saw 46,000 rebels and civilians evacuate.

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