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Putin warns against provocation amid hype over Syria gas attack claims

Russia’s president has warned against any recourse to provocative measures over allegations of a new chemical attack in Syria, amid rising threats of a military action by the US and its allies against the Damascus government, which they blame for the reported incident.

In a phone call on Monday, Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed 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 alleged attack on the militant-held town of Douma in the Eastern Ghouta suburb of the Syrian capital over the weekend left dozens dead and drew international condemnation from various countries and international bodies.

The Syrian government, in a statement released late on Saturday, strongly rejected the allegation of using chemical munitions and said that the so-called Jaish al-Islam Takfiri terrorist group, which has dominant presence in Douma, was repeating the allegations “in order to accuse the Syrian Arab army, in a blatant attempt to hinder the Army’s advance.”

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

The allegations against the Syrian government have been flying around as Damascus and its ally Moscow are within an inch of defeating foreign-backed militants in Douma, their last stronghold in Eastern Ghouta. The militants have been using the civilians there as human shields and launching deadly rocket attacks against the capital from the countryside.

In the course of the liberation operation in Eastern Ghouta, which began in February, Moscow has repeatedly warned that the militants in the region could stage gas attacks in a bid to frame the Syrian government.

Earlier on Monday, Putin’s Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “Both the president and the Defense Ministry, citing intelligence sources, have spoken about such a provocation being prepared.”

Using the latest alleged chemical attack as a pretext, Western governments, including the UK and France, but most notably the United States, have stepped up their threats to attack Syria in case it is proven that Damascus had perpetrated such violation.

Trump threatens to respond militarily

US President Donald Trump has vowed a “forceful response” to the attack, for which, he claimed, “Putin may bear responsibility.”

After meeting his cabinet and top generals on Monday, Trump told reporters “we have a lot of options militarily and we’ll be letting you know pretty soon… probably after the fact.”

Last April, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria in response to what it claimed was a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 100 people.

The Syrian government surrendered its stockpiles of chemical weapons during an internationally-monitored process in 2014.

Also on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry 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.”

US preparing for missile attack on Tartus?

Meanwhile, Turkish media reports suggested that USS Donald Cook, a destroyer armed with as many as 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles, had arrived off the coast of Syria, and was being buzzed by low-flying Russian fighter jets.

The destroyer is reportedly only 100 kilometers from the Russian naval base in the city of Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coastline.

The previous US Tomahawk attack on Syria was ensued by stern Moscow warnings that the strike could have hit Russian interests in the Arab country.

Citing unnamed US officials, Reuters reported Monday that Trump is weighing a multinational military response to the purported poison gas attack.

Senior officials from Russia and NATO are to meet over the situation in Syria next week, RT said. The meeting will be the first of its kind since 2013 amid troubled ties between the two sides.

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