by Patrick J. McDonnell
An image released by the Syrian Arab News Agency shows Syrian President Bashar Assad speaking during an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro in Damascus, Syria. (Syrian Arab News Agency / European Pressphoto Agency / September 2, 2013)
“Chaos and extremism would ensue. There is a risk of regional war,” Assad said in the interview with the French daily Le Figaro, excerpts of which were published Monday in English on the France 24 news website.
The 2 1/2-year Syrian civil war has already had a destabilizing effect on neighboring nations, sending hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing into Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Cross-over violence linked to the Syrian conflict has also broken out outside Syria's borders.
France has indicated that it may join the United States in a punitive military strike against Syria for a suspected poison gas attack outside Damascus last month that is reported to have hundreds.
PHOTOS: Syria before the war
In the interview, Assad called the allegation “illogical.” The incident occurred Aug. 21 while United Nations chemical weapons inspectors were in Damascus and as the Syrian military was making battlefield gains.
Syrian officials have accused antigovernment rebels of releasing the gas in a bid to draw foreign intervention against Assad’s government. The opposition has denied unleashing toxic substances.
“Those who make accusations must show evidence,” Assad told Le Figaro. “We challenge the United States and France to do this.”
Washington says it has “high confidence” in intelligence assessments that Assad’s forces carried out the attack and that it killed more than 1,400 people.
French authorities on Monday released a report implicating Assad's government in three chemical attacks, including the Aug. 21 incident outside Damascus, France 24 reported. The French inquiry put the number killed Aug. 21 at 281 or more, far lower than the death toll reported by U.S. officials.
DOCUMENT: U.S. chemical weapons intel
Also on Monday, Russia, a key ally of Assad, dismissed the U.S. evidence of a Syrian military chemical attack as “nothing concrete, no geographic coordinates or details,” in the words of Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has labeled as “utter nonsense” the idea that Assad’s military would unleash poison gas in the Damascus suburbs while U.N. chemical weapons inspectors were in the Syrian capital.
The U.N. inspection team has returned to Europe and is analyzing biological and environmental samples and other data taken at sites of the alleged mass chemical killing. The U.N. says it could take up to three weeks to determine if chemical agents were deployed.
Patrick J. McDonnell
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