In a statement discrediting both the Assad regime's and Russian narrative of an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian opposition in Aleppo last week, the US government has accused the regime of carrying a tear gas attack.
The statement, reported by The National on Tuesday, was released on Friday after days of deliberations between the White House and the State Department. It said that on "November 24, 2018, the Assad regime and Russia falsely accused the opposition and extremist groups of conducting a chlorine attack in north west Aleppo. "The United States strongly refutes this narrative and has credible information that pro-regime forces likely used tear gas against civilians in Aleppo on November 24."
The Syrian regime and Russia accused the Syrian opposition of carrying out a chemical weapons attack in Northwest Aleppo and launched air strikes on targets in opposition-held Idlib in retaliation.
But the United States has claimed it "has information indicating Russian and Syrian personnel were involved in the tear gas incident, and believes that both countries are using it as an opportunity to undermine confidence in the ceasefire in Idlib."
It also warned “Russia and the regime against tampering with the suspected attack site and urge them to secure the safety of impartial, independent inspectors so that those responsible can be held accountable.”
[ Warplanes target rebels in Aleppo hours after suspected gas attack ]
[ Like Raed Fares, too many have died for their dream of peace in Syria ]
[ Staffan de Mistura laments 'missed opportunities' at lacklustre final Syria summit ]
The statement comes as US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey visits Jordan and Turkey, tensions between Moscow and Washington escalate over a number of issues, including Syria and Ukraine. Before the visit, Mr Jeffrey accused Russia of “playing a dangerous game accusing us [Washington] of playing a dangerous game [in Syria]”, and lamented its failure to make progress on the constitutional committee.
The US also expressed concern that the Syrian government was trying to manipulate potential evidence of the attack as an investigative body attempted to access the site. "Pro-regime officials have maintained control of the attack site in its immediate aftermath, allowing them to potentially fabricate samples and contaminate the site before a proper investigation of it by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons," the statement read.
Britain similarly cast aspersions over the regime narrative of the Aleppo incident. A statement read, "The UK assesses it highly unlikely that chlorine was used in this incident, as the regime and its Russian allies have claimed. It is highly unlikely that the opposition was responsible."
"It is likely that this was either a staged incident intended to frame the opposition, or an operation which went wrong and from which Russia and the regime sought to take advantage."
"We frequently see the Syrian regime and its partners making false claims and using disinformation to cover their tracks. Allegations that the UK or its allies are in any way involved in this, or any other incident involving chemical weapons in Syria, are complete fabrications," it added.
The OPCW held a closed meeting on Tuesday.
Washington has been seeking European and regional support for its position to dispute both the Russian and Syrian government's version of events.
Meanwhile, Russia's embassy in Washington hit back on Facebook.
"The Russian Defense Ministry does not rule out that the US Department of State's allegations about the recent toxic chemicals attack in Syria's Aleppo are aimed at distracting the public attention from the crimes of the US aviation in the east of the Middle Eastern country," the post said.