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Russia says Syria chemical attack was staged by foreign rival

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Russia says Syria chemical attack was staged by foreign rival

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LONDON — Russia said it had "irrefutable" evidence that the deadly Syria chemical weapons attack that has prompted the U.S. to consider airstrikes was fabricated.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference Friday that there was a "very alarming atmosphere" over the issue and likened plans for a military response to failed action in Libya.

"God forbid any other military gambles will be taken in Syria," he said.

Lavrov cited "irrefutable data that [this] was yet another staged event and staging was done … by the special services of one of the countries at the forefront of the anti-Russia campaign.

His comments come after President Donald Trump called last Saturday's attack in Douma "heinous" and "atrocious" and said his administration was weighing "major decisions" on how to respond.

Activists and aid groups say dozens died in the assault on Douma, the last rebel stronghold in eastern Ghouta, which has been subjected to intensive bombing by Syria's Russian-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The U.S. has blood and urine samples from the area that have tested positive for chemical weapons, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence.

The samples suggested the presence of both chlorine gas and an unnamed nerve agent, two officials said. Typically, such samples are obtained through hospitals and collected by U.S. or foreign intelligence assets on the ground. The officials said they were "confident" in the intelligence, though not 100 percent certain.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Maxim Shipenkov

Assad is known to have stocks of the nerve agent sarin, and has previously used a mixture of chlorine and sarin in attacks, according to U.S. officials.

Lavrov urged more diplomatic contacts over the issue and said Russia was open to further telephone contact between Trump and President Vladimir Putin.

"Diplomatic methods need to be used, which do not include ultimatums and threats," he said.

The White House said Thursday that Trump has not made any final decisions regarding a U.S. response after convening with national security advisers but that a decision would be made "soon."

The U.S. ambassador to Britain said Friday that Trump had spoken overnight with Prime Minister Theresa May about "the need for a joint response."