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Caution dictates scepticism over news we are fed about Syria

BRITISH politicians and media will scoff at Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko’s suggestion that Sergei and Yulia Skripal may have been injected by British authorities with a nerve agent produced at Porton Down.

They will be equally scornful of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s declaration that Moscow has “plenty of evidence” that Britain staged the alleged chlorine gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma.

Lavrov added that Russian troops entering Douma after Jaish al-Islam jihadists decamped had “found a stockpile of chemicals produced in Germany, Porton Down and Salisbury, among others.”

The first allegation has the hallmarks of a tit-for-tat allegation in response to a shedload of largely unsubstantiated assertions by Britain and its allies about Salisbury and Douma.

The second could fall under the same heading but for growing suspicion that, if not Britain, some other actor was responsible for choreographing a gas attack charade for the pro-jihadist White Helmets outfit.

Respected journalist Robert Fisk, whose on-the-spot reports from his home in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East have often shone a spotlight on regional developments that Nato governments and their regional allies would prefer to remain hidden, put the cat among the pigeons again this week.

Eschewing an official guided tour, he set off for Douma himself, speaking to local people and discovering widespread scepticism about the gas attack yarn.

A local 11-year-old boy told Russian TV that he was one of the children filmed by the White Helmets having water poured over him after the group shouted “gas attack.”

The boy and his father knew nothing of any gas attack and, for him, the most notable aspect of the episode was the sweets and biscuits reward for his participation in the White Helmets video.

The boy and his father could be lying. They could have been coached on what to say and been paid for testimony that proved useful to the Syrian government and its Russian ally.

All this is possible, but, in accepting that, this simply shows how easy it is to make a video to be accepted as genuine by one side because it confirms previously issued propaganda.

Officials from Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told Salisbury residents on Thursday evening that their city is safe, but police began cordoning off nine areas yesterday for disinfecting exercises that could take several months to complete.

In contrast to this acceptance that cleaning up several sites will take such a long time, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a news briefing that Washington has “credible information” that Moscow and Damascus are working to “sanitise” Douma to eradicate evidence of a gas attack.

This, she said, citing more “credible information,” explains why efforts are being made to prevent Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspectors from gaining access to the town.

Russia and Syria, it must be remembered, urged the OPCW in the first place to visit Douma to assess the claims made by Britain, France and the US.

But the Nato powers preferred to rely on the White Helmets video, as they have a number of questionable offerings from this group that they and their pro-jihadist Gulf allies finance.

These are always authenticated and guaranteed prime-time dissemination in the global TV networks based in these countries.

It is inconceivable that any side’s propaganda output can be relied on 100 per cent or be dismissed with equal certainty, but caution surely dictates a little scepticism rather than swallowing all we are fed about Syria.

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