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Russia, West Remain Divided on Syria Gas Attack

Russia and Western powers remain divided on who was responsible for a chemical weapons attack in Syria, but are continuing to work together toward a United Nations resolution on the removal of Syria's chemical arsenal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday the attack last month near Damascus was likely a "provocation" by rebels seeking to draw in outside military help.

His French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, told a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow that evidence presented in a report by U.N. investigators released Monday "seems to leave no doubt" that Syrian forces were the ones who deployed chemical weapons.

The inspection report presented to the U.N. Security Council does not assess blame for the attack. But the report's underlying evidence, including the trajectory of poison-filled rockets, was cited by the United States and its Western allies as proof of the Syrian government's responsibility.

Lavrov downplayed the discovery of Cyrillic letters on one of the rockets, saying other nations have been copying old Soviet weapons. The Soviet Union is widely believed to have sponsored Syria's original chemical weapons program.

Russia opposes a push by France, Britain and the U.S. to include in the U.N. measure a threat of force if Syria does not comply. The U.S. and Britain say they want a strong resolution that sets precise and binding deadlines for Syria to give up its chemical stockpile.

Lavrov said Russia "spoke clearly" about rejecting the use-of-force clause when the chemical weapons agreement was worked out in Geneva. But he added that if signs emerge that Syria is not fulfilling the agreement or there are reports of further chemical weapons use "then the Security Council will examine the situation."

The U.N. report cites "clear and convincing evidence" that deadly sarin gas was used on a relatively large scale in an attack last month near Damascus. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the evidence gathered by U.N. inspectors "indisputably" and "overwhelmingly" confirms the use of poison gas.

Mr. Ban described the attack as a war crime and said 85 percent of blood samples from the victims showed evidence of sarin gas. He also said recovered fragments from surface-to-surface delivery rockets showed sarin use "beyond doubt and beyond the pale."

The report itself cited survivors describing "a military attack with shelling," followed by an onset of symptoms including "blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and an eventual loss of consciousness."

Meanwhile, Syrian activists said a car bomb exploded at the main, rebel-held Bab al-Hawa border crossing into Turkey Tuesday, injuring several people.

The explosion occurred at a roadblock manned by Islamist brigades at the entrance of the rebel-held crossing. It came a day after Turkey shot down a Syrian helicopter that had entered Turkish airspace.

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