Assad refutes UN findings on gas attack
SYRIAN President Bashar Assad has said that a United Nations report finding "clear and convincing evidence" that sarin nerve gas was used in Syria painted an "unrealistic" account, and has denied that his government orchestrated the attack.
In an interview with Fox News Channel, conducted in the Syrian capital of Damascus and aired on Wednesday, Mr Assad said terrorists were to blame for the chemical attack, which the United States said killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.
He said evidence that terrorist groups have used sarin gas has been turned over to Russia and that Russia, through one of its satellites, has evidence that the rockets in the Aug 21 attack were launched from another area.
While the UN report did not lay blame, many experts interpreting the report said all indications were that the attack was conducted by Assad forces.
US, Britain and France jumped on evidence in the report - especially the type of rockets, the composition of the sarin agent, and trajectory of the missiles - to declare that Mr Assad's government was responsible.
"The whole story doesn't even hold together," Mr Assad said. "It's not realistic...We didn't use any chemical weapons in Ghouta (a Damascus suburb)."
He said his government would abide by an agreement reached with US and Russian officials to give up his chemical weapons. He said he has received estimates that destroying the stockpiles would cost US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) and would take roughly a year.
"We didn't say that we are joining partially...We joined fully. We sent the letter. We sent the document. And we are committed to the full requirement of this agreement."
Meanwhile, a Syrian activist group has said that Al-Qaeda-linked gunmen have captured a town near the Turkish border after heavy fighting with a rebel group.
The takeover of the town, Azaz, by fighters from the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria reflected the rising strength of extremist fighters in northern and eastern Syria and their rapidly deteriorating relations with more mainline rebels.
It could pose a dilemma for the Turkish government, which has been allowing militant Islamist fighters to cross into Syria from its territory, but may not be keen to see a formidable Al-Qaeda presence so close to its border.
AP, NYT, REUTERS