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Syria accused U.S. of making up chemical weapons evidence

WASHINGTON, June 16 (UPI) — The Syrian government Friday accused the United States of manufacturing stories about chemical weapons use to justify support for the rebels.

The Russian government made similar charges, CNN reported. An aide said President Vladimir Putin finds the U.S. charges unconvincing.

President Bashar Assad, who has refused to allow U.N. inspectors into the country, has charged the rebels are the ones using chemical weapons.

A government statement reported by the official news agency SANA after the White House said there was new evidence of chemical weapons use charged the United States with “flagrant tricks to come up with any possible means to justify the decision of President Barack Obama to arm the Syrian opposition.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Friday the United States would be sending support to the Supreme Military Council but declined to specify exactly what would be sent.

British Prime Minister David Cameron supported the U.S. conclusion. Cameron praised the United States for redirecting focus back to the “difficult question” about how to confront Assad, The Guardian reported.

The Wall Street Journal reported officials saying the White House’s green light to arm rebels fighting the Assad regime may also include a limited no-fly zone.

Such a move, if approved by President Obama, would significantly expand U.S. support and involvement in the 27-month civil war the United Nations said Thursday has killed more than 90,000 people.

Cameron said British and U.S. intelligence agencies have been sharing information.

U.S. intelligence officials say they believe Syrian regime troops killed 100 to 150 rebels with sarin gas, a potent nerve agent classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Thursday.

In Moscow, a government spokesman said Russia wasn’t convinced by a U.S. report about chemical weapons use by Syrian forces against the rebels, RIA Novosti reported Friday.

“The Americans have tried to provide us with information on the use by the [Assad] regime of chemical weapons, but I will be frank: The report does not seem convincing to us,” Kremlin aide Yury Ushakov said.

Russia, a key trading partner with Syria, has blocked U.N. efforts to sanction the Assad regime since the civil war began.

Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, dismissed the U.S. report as “a fabrication,” ITAR-Tass reported.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he welcomed the “clear U.S. statement” and urged the Syrian regime to grant access to U.N. inspectors to investigate reports of chemical weapons use in the country.

U.S. officials told the Journal a limited no-fly zone was being considered but Rhodes said the administration had “not made any decision to pursue a military operation such as a no-fly zone,” citing, among other things, the difficulty in implementing it, the expense and no “clear guarantee” it would improve the situation.

Rhodes also said the administration ruled out deploying U.S. ground troops.

The no-fly zone — which an official quoted by the Journal dubbed a “no-fighting zone” — would be enforced by U.S. and allied planes in Jordanian territory to protect rebel fighters who would train there, as well as Syrian refugees.

Jordan, a key U.S. ally overwhelmed by refugees from Syria, has offered Washington use of its bases to help establish a safe zone along the Syrian border.

The zone would extend as many as 25 miles into Syria from Jordan, the Journal said.

Washington and allies would enforce the zone using aircraft flown from Jordanian bases, the U.S. officials told the Journal.

The aircraft would generally fly inside Jordan, but any incursion into Syrian air space, if threatened by advancing Syrian planes, could be justified as self-defense, the officials said.

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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