By Safvan Allahverdi
ADDS REMARKS ON PALESTINIAN JOURNALIST
WASHINGTON (AA) - The U.S. has “a very high level of confidence” that the Syrian regime conducted a deadly chemical weapons attack last weekend on Douma district, the State Department said Friday.
"Syria is responsible. We are all in agreement," spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters at a press briefing, referring to various sources and reports from government agencies, including those of Britain and France.
However, Nauert said Washington is still working to identify the mix of chemicals used and a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will also launch an investigation and collect evidence in Douma.
"We believe we know who was responsible for this. We will still wait -- the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will still formulate its facts and its findings, but it does not determine the responsibility; they determine the substance," Nauert added.
Denying Moscow’s claim that the alleged gas attack was staged by the UK, she called the accusation "one of a long list of instances in which Russia takes information and they try to turn it upside down".
"We have seen a long history of the Russian government sow discord, whether it is in our own election process or other countries," she said.
"They try to change the story, but the facts are exactly what they are. Russia has changed its story once again because the facts have become too inconvenient for them."
Forces of the Bashar al-Assad regime struck targets in Eastern Ghouta's Douma district Saturday using a toxic gas which left at least 78 civilians dead, according to Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets.
The Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta has been under siege for the last five years. Humanitarian access to the area, which is home to 400,000 people, has been completely cut off.
Over the past eight months, Assad regime forces have intensified their siege, making it nearly impossible for food or medicine to get into the district and leaving thousands of civilians in need.
- Silence over journalist’s death
Asked whether the U.S. condemns Israel for the recent death of Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja during a peaceful protest in Gaza, Nauert dodged the question, saying the issue is an Israeli government matter.
Following her response, a reporter recalled U.S. condemnation of other countries over such issues and asked why Israel shouldn’t be condemned for the killing of journalists.
Nauert again avoided condemning Israel, which regularly commits violence against Palestinian civilians and journalists.
Murtaja, 30, was shot in the abdomen by Israeli troops last Friday while covering ongoing rallies on the Gaza-Israel border. He succumbed to his injury the following day and his funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners.
He was targeted by Israeli forces despite wearing a helmet and a vest on which the word “Press” was clearly emblazoned.
Murtaja’s death has shown once again the risks that Palestinian reporters face while plying their trade.
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