Militants affiliated with al-Qaeda and ‘White Helmets’ are preparing to stage a chemical attack in Idlib province as Syrian army continues to advance, the Russian Reconciliation Center said citing a tip from local residents.
Members of the self-styled civil defense group, which operates solely in territories controlled by anti-government militants, were noticed arriving at the town of Ma’arat al-Artik, about 11 kilometers (7 miles) northwest of Aleppo. According to the call that came in on the reconciliation center’s hotline on Monday evening, they were preparing a “provocation with the use of poisonous agents.”
About 15 ‘White Helmets’ were spotted in the town, alongside militants from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – an Al-Qaeda affiliate previously known as Al-Nusra – said two local residents, adding that two vehicles have delivered about 400 liters (100 gallons) of chemicals to the town.
Some 200 people, including children – mostly family members of HTS militants, which had been evacuated to Idlib from elsewhere in Syria – could be involved in staging the false-flag chemical attacks, the tipsters said.
The Reconciliation Center named the militant commander involved in the plan as Mahi al-Din al-Am, saying it was the same man who helped stage and film the graphic aftermath of the alleged chemical attack at Khan Shaykhun in April 2017.
The center called on the militants to abandon their “criminal plan” and called on Turkey – which recently sent troops into militant-controlled Idlib – to exert “all possible pressure” to prevent a false flag.
A number of “chemical attacks” in Syria have been blamed on the government in Damascus over the course of the war, which began in 2011. They happen to take place every time the Syrian army is advancing against the militants, who have tried time and again to attract Western military intervention on their behalf.
Following the 2017 Khan Shaykhun incident, the US launched missiles against Syria; another air and missile attack was launched in April 2018, after an “attack” at Douma near Damascus. Though the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) eventually said the Douma attack may have happened, whistleblowers have recently made public that evidence in the case was doctored to reach that conclusion, while skeptical assessments of OPCW’s in-house experts were ignored.