'No option except victory' in Syria's civil war, says Assad
President Bashar Assad's government came under mounting international pressure yesterday after a chemical attack in northern Syria, with even key ally Russia saying its support is not unconditional.
Turkey, meanwhile, said samples from victims of Tuesday's attack, which killed more than 80 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, indicate they were exposed to sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent.
Syria rejected the accusations, and Moscow warned against apportioning blame until an investigation has been carried out.
The United States said it hopes for a vote late last night on a UN Security Council resolution that would condemn the chemical attack. President Donald Trump hinted at military action and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Mr Assad should no longer have a role in governing the Syrian people.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview that "unconditional support is not possible in this current world."
But he added that "it is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong."
Russia has provided military support for the Syrian government since September 2015, turning the balance of power in Mr Assad's favour. Moscow has used its veto power at the Security Council on several occasions since the civil war began six years ago to prevent sanctions against Damascus.
The two countries "enjoy a relationship of cooperation, of exchange of views and full mutual support," said Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin. Mr Assad and his army are "the only real power in Syria that can resist terrorists on the ground," he said.
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Syria maintains it didn't use chemical weapons, blaming opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals. Russia's Defence Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun.
"I stress, once again, that the Syrian Arab Army did not and will not use such weapons even against the terrorists who are targeting our people," Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Damascus.
Turkish officials said nearly 60 victims of the attack were brought to Turkey for treatment and three of them died.
Victims showed signs of nerve gas exposure, including suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils and involuntary defecation, the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders said. Paramedics used fire hoses to wash the chemicals from the bodies of victims.
Mr Assad said there is no "option except victory" in the country's civil war in an interview published yesterday, saying the government could not reach "results" with opposition groups that attended recent peace talks.
The interview with Croatian newspaper 'Vecernji List' appeared to have been conducted before President Trump accused him of crossing "many, many lines" with the poison gas attack.
"If we do not win this war, it means that Syria will be deleted from the map," Assad said. "We have no choice in facing this war, and that's why we are confident, we are persistent and we are determined."