France’s Ayrault says Assad’s comments on Syria chemical attack are “lies“

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault moves his hand across his face during a joint press conference with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing(AP Photo)
Updated 14 April 2017
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France’s Ayrault says Assad’s comments on Syria chemical attack are “lies“

BEIJIN: French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault on Friday dismissed as “lies and propaganda” comments by Syrian President Bashar Assad that a poison gas attack blamed on his government last week in Idlib province was “100 percent fabrication.”
Syria has already denied the attack and Assad had said the allegations against the Syrian military by the United States and its allies were used to justify a US air strike.
Syria’s military had given up all its chemical weapons in 2013 after an agreement made at the time, and would not have used them anyway, AFP quoted Assad as saying in an interview published on Thursday.
Ayrault, speaking at a joint press briefing in Beijing with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, said he had learned of Assad’s remarks with “deep sadness.”
“What I heard is 100 percent lies and propaganda. It’s 100 percent cruelty and cynicism. And so we have to end it. We need a real cease-fire,” Ayrault said.
Ayrault added that widespread destruction in the country during its six-year-long civil war was “not a fantasy,” and thanked China — like France, a permanent member of the UN security council — for its “independent and wise position.”
China has repeatedly urged that a political resolution be found in Syria.
It has also sided numerous times with Russia, Assad’s top international backer since 2015, in blocking action by the Security Council on Syria. Beijing’s special envoy for the Syrian crisis has also praised Russia’s military role there as effective in combating international terrorism.
Earlier this week, Ayrault criticized Russia for its “hypocrisy” in Syria.
The April 4 attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people and prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response, its first direct assault on the Assad government in the conflict.
Assad said Syria would only allow an “impartial” investigation into the poison gas incident.
Russia has said the gas was part of rebel stockpiles, which the rebels have denied.
Samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun last week tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, the British delegation at the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW said on Thursday.


Priest in stable condition after stabbing at Montreal church

Updated 6 min 39 sec ago
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Priest in stable condition after stabbing at Montreal church

MONTREAL: A Canadian Catholic priest was stabbed in front of dozens of stunned worshippers as he was celebrating mass Friday morning at Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory.
Montreal police said a 911 call was placed at around 8:40 a.m. local time. When officers arrived at the landmark church, a male suspect was already detained by security guards.
Philip Barrett, who was sitting near the front of the church, said he saw a tall man, who appeared to be a Caucasian in his 30s, rise from a pew and quickly walk to attack Rev. Claude Grou, the Oratory’s rector.
“He walked over behind the altar and he seemed to strike the priest’s body,” Barrett said. “I think the priest fell down at that time. I do remember the priest was moving away from the man but it happened so quickly there was almost no time to react.”
The service was live-streamed on a Catholic channel. Video shows a tall man in a dark jacket and white baseball cap rounding the altar and charging at Grou as he thrusts his right arm toward the priest. Grou runs backward a few steps before the assailant pushes him into a banner.
As screams are heard in the background, a group of people run forward, surrounding and blocking the suspect.
Barrett said people quickly restrained the suspect, who did not struggle. He said the suspect didn’t speak or call out during the attack.
There was no other information immediately available about why the priest may have been attacked.
Police spokeswoman Caroline Chevrefils says the victim suffered minor injuries to his upper body and was taken to the hospital.
The suspect was to be questioned by police Friday morning.
Barrett said Grou crumpled to the ground after the attack, but he appeared to be conscious and alert about 15 minutes later when paramedics wheeled him to an ambulance.
He said members of the congregation immediately began praying.
“We’re reassured, because when he left the oratory he was conscious and could talk, which we see as a good sign,” said Celine Barbeau, a spokeswoman for the church.
St. Joseph’s Oratory is among Canada’s largest churches, and pilgrims from all over the world are drawn to its domed roof and stunning architecture.
Barrett said that he, like the rest of the roughly 60 people present, was shocked that an attack would happen in a place he has come to see as a haven.
“I really find it’s a welcoming place,” he said. “I just hope that as a result of this, I mean, I can imagine they’re going to need more security, but I hope they can still keep that welcoming spirit.”