The Latest: Putin: Syria chemical allegations like Iraq 2003

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

6:30 p.m.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says that the U.S. accusations toward the Syrian government over a chemical attack resemble Washington’s claims prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Putin, speaking after Tuesday’s talks in Moscow with visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella, said the U.S. invaded Iraq following false allegations that it possessed chemical weapons.

He said the U.S. attack on a Syrian air base following accusations of the Syrian government’s involvement in last week’s chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun “strongly resembles the developments of 2003.”

Putin added that some in the West are using Syria to cast Russia as a “common enemy.”

Russia has argued that civilians in Khan Sheikhoun were exposed to toxic agents from a militant arsenal that was hit by a Syrian air strike. Putin said militants are preparing more “provocations” designed to blame Damascus


6:15 p.m.

The Russian military says Syrian militants are preparing to use chemical weapons and blame the Syrian government for the attacks in order to provoke more U.S. strikes.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military’s General Staff said Tuesday the militants are currently stockpiling toxic agents in the areas of Khan Sheikhoun, the Jira air base and west of Aleppo, as well as Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

Rudskoi said the militants’ aim is “to create another pretext for accusing the Syrian government of using chemical weapons and provoking new U.S. strikes.”

The U.S. last week struck a Syrian air base it said was used for a chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun. Russia has insisted that the Syrian government wasn’t involved in the attack.


6:05 p.m.

The international chemical weapons watchdog has scheduled a meeting of its executive council to discuss the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.

According to a written notification posted Tuesday on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ website, the behind-closed-doors meeting will be held Thursday at its headquarters in The Hague.

Britain’s delegation says in a tweet that it will be expressing its “horror” at the use of chemical weapons in the attack in Idlib province that left dozens dead.

Turkey’s health minister said Tuesday that tests conducted on victims of the chemical attack in northern Syria confirm that sarin gas was used.

The OPCW said last week that its fact-finding mission is “gathering and analyzing information from all available sources” about the attack.


5 p.m.

Russia says it will host the foreign ministers of Iran and Syria for a three-way meeting.

The meeting announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry is set for Friday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that President Vladimir Putin isn’t planning to take part in the meeting.

The meeting comes after the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who arrived in Moscow Tuesday.

It follows last week’s U.S. strike on a Syrian air force base in retaliation for a chemical attack in northern Syria. Russia has denounced the U.S. attack as an “aggression” and argued that the Syrian government wasn’t responsible for the chemical attack.


4:50 p.m.

A Syrian official says Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will visit Russia later this week where he will meet officials in Moscow.

Thursday’s visit comes amid escalating tensions in the Middle East after the U.S. launched a missile attack last week on a central Syrian air base. Washington blamed Damascus for a chemical attack in northern Syria that killed nearly 90 people, a charge that Syria strongly denies.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Tuesday that there might be a three-way meeting later this week in Moscow between officials from Russia, Syria and Iran.

Russia and Iran are the strongest backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

—Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria


4:40 p.m.

Turkey’s health minister says test results conducted on victims of a chemical attack in northern Syria confirm that sarin gas was used.

Recep Akdag said Tuesday that blood and urine samples taken from the victims confirmed that they were subjected to the nerve agent. His comments were reported by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey last week conducted autopsies on three victims of the gas attack who were brought from Syria.

Officials from the World Health Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons participated in the autopsies.


4:30 p.m.

A U.S. military spokesman says the U.S.-led coalition and its allies are paving the way to storm the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group.

Col. John L. Dorrian, told reporters in Baghdad Tuesday that “ultimately we’re isolating Raqqa and we are going to, at a time that our partners choose, move in and liberate that city from” IS.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces has been on the offensive since November capturing territory with the aim of laying siege to Raqqa. The city now is surrounded from three sides.

Dorrian said the operation to liberate Raqqa is the equivalent in Syria of what’s being “done to eliminate the enemy” in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.


2:30 p.m.

Russia’s Defense Ministry says two Russian officers have been killed and one gravely wounded in a mortar attack in Syria.

Russia is a staunch backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has been waging an air campaign in support of his forces since 2015.

The ministry announced the deaths Tuesday, but did not specify when or where the attack took place.


2 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists are reporting clashes in the southern city of Daraa between government forces and insurgents, saying that government aircraft have dropped barrel bombs on the city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out when rebels launched an offensive on a government-held area in central Daraa on Monday. It said that by Tuesday, 16 pro-government fighters, including an army colonel, had been killed.

Daraa-based activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh and the Observatory said warplanes carried out raids on Daraa while helicopter gunships dropped at least eight barrels loaded with explosives onto the city.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that the use of barrel bombs, which government forces have repeatedly employed throughout the six-year-old conflict, might bring a U.S. response.