Moscow on Monday said reports of an alleged chemical attack on Syria’s rebel-held Eastern Ghouta were planted “bogus stories” and insisted armed groups attacked by regime forces there were terrorist allies. “There are already bogus stories in the media that yesterday chlorine was used in Eastern Ghouta, citing an anonymous individual living in the United States,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press-conference.
A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties in a village in the Eastern Ghouta region after the suspected chemical attack Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a medic who treated those affected. Eastern Ghouta has been under one of the most ferocious assaults of Syria’s civil war in recent days, with over 500 people killed in a bombing campaign by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces over the course of a week.
The UN Security Council on Saturday passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, but the document did not specify when the truce would go into force. In a concession to Russia, the resolution also added wording saying that “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities” associated with Al-Qaeda would not fall under the ceasefire. Lavrov on Monday said Eastern Ghouta has groups associated with terrorist al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, such as Jaish al-Islam.
“This makes Nusra’s partners unprotected by the ceasefire,” Lavrov said. “They are also subject to actions by the Syrian air force.” Fresh strikes on Monday killed at least 10 civilians in Eastern Ghouta, which lies east of Damascus, according to the Observatory monitor. The United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres demanded that the ceasefire is immediately implemented. Russia is a key ally of Assad, and fought a campaign for over two years in Syria in his support, helping to turn around the multi-front war.