Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town was a “fabrication” to justify a US military strike, in an exclusive AFP interview.
“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication… Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists. They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack,” Assad said Wednesday, in his first interview since American cruise missiles hit a central Syrian air base.
He maintained that his government handed over all its chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013 and could not have been behind last week’s suspected sarin attack.
“There was no order to make any attack… We gave up our arsenal a few years ago. Even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them,” said the Syrian president.
Assad insisted it was “not clear whether it happened or not, because how can you verify a video? You have a lot of fake videos now.”
“We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhun. Were they dead at all?”
He said Khan Sheikhun had no strategic value and was not currently a battle front.
“This story is not convincing by any means.”
Assad said he could “only allow any investigation when it’s impartial, when we make sure that unbiased countries will participate in this delegation in order to make sure that they won’t use it for politicised purposes.”
He insisted several times that his forces had turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action.
“There was no order to make any attack, we don’t have any chemical weapons, we gave up our arsenal a few years ago,” he said.
“Even if we have them, we wouldn’t use them, and we have never used our chemical arsenal in our history.”
The Khan Sheikhun incident prompted the first direct US military action against Assad’s government since the war began, with 59 cruise missiles hitting the Shayrat airbase three days after the suspected chemical attack.
Assad said more US attacks “could happen anytime, anywhere, not only in Syria.”
But he said his forces had not been diminished by the US strike.
“Our firepower, our ability to attack the terrorists hasn’t been affected by this strike.”
Assad said peace talks on resolving his country’s war were ineffective because Washington was “not serious” about ending the conflict.
“The United States is not serious in achieving any political solution. They want to use it as an umbrella for the terrorists,” said the Syrian president.