Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says US promoting "rigged" reports on use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta, after US accused Russia of blocking proposals on forming a new UN body to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks.

A Syrian boy holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a make-shift hospital following a reported gas attack on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on January 22, 2018.
A Syrian boy holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a make-shift hospital following a reported gas attack on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on January 22, 2018. (AFP)

Russia on Wednesday accused the US of promoting unverified reports about chemical weapons attacks in Syria in order to cloud Moscow's latest peace initiative, while the Syrian regime dismissed the reports as "lies."

The US and 28 other countries are launching a new plan to better identify and punish anyone who uses chemical weapons, amid new reports of a suspected gas attack in rebel-held suburbs of Damascus earlier this week.

At least 21 people, including children, reported difficulties breathing, a war monitor said on Monday. The Syrian regime is suspected to be behind yet another chemical attack on Eastern Ghouta.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the US of promoting "rigged, unverified reports" on the use of chemical weapons in Syria to hamper Russian peace efforts.

Russia is hosting peace talks in the Black Sea resort of Sochi next week that some Syrian opposition figures said will run counter to UN peace initiatives.

TRT World's Jessica King has more from Moscow.

Moscow "bears responsibility for victims"

Ryabkov's remarks came a day after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Moscow "ultimately bears responsibility for the victims" of the latest suspected chemical attack.

The Syrian regime dismissed the allegations as "unacceptable" and blamed Western nations for blocking probes and pressuring investigators after previous attacks.

The US and Russia reached an agreement in 2013 to remove all chemical weapons from Syria, but there have been several reported chemical attacks since then, including one last year that led US President Donald Trump to order a retaliatory missile attack on a Syrian air base.

The planned talks in Sochi could also be overshadowed by the heavy fighting in northwestern Syria's Afrin region, where Free Syria Army backed by Turkish military are battling YPG/PKK and Daesh terror groups in Operation Olive Branch.

The US-backed YPG is the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which has been designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the US and EU.

Russia harming new initiative?

Earlier on Tuesday, US Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley accused Russia of trying to distract attention from a new initiative by several countries to hold those who use chemical weapons in Syria accountable by proposing that the UN create a new investigative body to identify perpetrators.

Haley told the UNSC that if Russia wants an independent and impartial investigation, the US is ready to re-establish the expert body known as the Joint Implementation Mechanism, or JIM, that Moscow refused to renew in November.

She stressed that "anything less is unacceptable."

Haley said Russia was "fine" when the JIM found Daesh group responsible for using chemical weapons, but when its investigation pointed to the use of sarin and chlorine by Bashar al Assad's Syrian regime, a close ally, it "threw up smoke to question the findings."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies