In his first interview since the deadly gas poisoning in Idlib, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad said accusations of a chemical weapons attack were “100 percent fabrication" used to justify American air strikes.
The U.S. and others blame him for what they believe was a deliberate attack earlier this month that killed more than 100 civilians.
Syria's military had given up all chemical weapons in 2013 and would not have used them anyway, Assad told agency AFP in his first interview since the deaths. The interview was recorded in Damascus by Syrian government cameras and released to other media outlets.
The April 4 gas poisoning in the town of Khan Sheikhoun prompted the U.S. to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response — its first direct assault on the Assad government in the six-year-old conflict.
"Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand in glove with the terrorists,” he said, referring to the rebel groups that are fighting his Assad regime. “They fabricated the whole story in order to have a pretext for the attack.”
Assad said Syria would only allow an "impartial" investigation into the poison gas incident. On Wednesday, its ally Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to condemn the attack.
Russia said the gas was part of rebel stockpiles, which the rebels have denied.
It was the deadliest such incident since a sarin gas attack killed hundreds of people in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus in 2013, prompting threats of U.S. military action.
Samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun last week tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, the British delegation t the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW said on Thursday.
Assad said the U.S. and Syria could still be allies "if they are serious in fighting terrorists."