Kremlin general accuses Britain of faking attack that triggered Syrian emergency
The Russian Defence Ministry has accused Britain of staging a fake chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma last weekend.
A day before a team from the international chemical weapons watchdog was to arrive in Douma, just east of Damascus, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said images of victims of the purported attack were fakes staged with "Britain's direct involvement", without providing evidence.
White Helmets first-responder volunteer and activists claimed the alleged chemical attack on April 7 by the Syrian government killed over 40 people.
Gen Konashenkov released statements by medics from Douma's hospital who said a group of people toting video cameras entered the hospital, shouting its patients were struck with chemical weapons, dousing them with water and causing panic.
According to the statements, the medics said none of the patients had any symptoms of chemical poisoning.
Gen Konashenkov said "powerful pressure from London was exerted on representatives of the so-called White Helmets to quickly stage the premeditated provocation".
He added the Russian military has proof of British involvement, but didn't immediately present it.
The accusations followed an earlier statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said that "intelligence agencies of a state that is now striving to spearhead a Russo-phobic campaign were involved in that fabrication". He didn't elaborate or name the state.
Mr Lavrov said Russian experts have already inspected the site of the alleged attack and found no trace of chemical weapons, adding without elaboration that Moscow has "irrefutable information that it was another fabrication".
French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his "deep concerns" over the situation in Syria in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Macron called for dialogue between France and Russia to "continue and intensify" to bring peace and stability to Syria. The Kremlin's readout said Mr Putin warned against rushing to blame the Syrian government before conducting a "thorough and objective probe".
The Russian leader warned against "ill-considered and dangerous actions...that would have consequences beyond conjecture."
Presidents Putin and Macron instructed their foreign and defence ministers to maintain close contact to "de-escalate the situation", the Kremlin claimed.
Russian officials - both from Moscow and speaking at the United Nations - alleged soon after Saturday's suspected attack that the images of the victims in Douma were fake.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also said following Syrian rebels' withdrawal from the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, stockpiles of chemical agents were found there. The ministry pointed to previous alleged use of chemicals by the rebels in fighting with Syrian government troops.
Mr Lavrov reiterated a strong warning against military action in Syria, saying any such "adventures" would increase flows of refugees into Europe.
In a reference to the US, he said that "it would only benefit those who are protected by the ocean and expect to sit there and engage in continuous efforts to stir up the region in order to advance their geopolitical goals".