'Russia may have tampered with chemical attack site'

A girl sits on a water container at a camp for displaced Syrians near the town of Azaz. AFP

A girl sits on a water container at a camp for displaced Syrians near the town of Azaz. AFP

Western governments called on Russian Federation and Syria to give unfettered access to Douma, the site of the alleged attack.

"We condemn the actions and hold the Kremlin responsible for the malicious activities", said Jeanette Manfra, the chief cybersecurity official for the Department of Homeland Security.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said President Donald Trump "has not yet made a decision about possible actions in Syria".

Chemical weapons attacks are suspected to have taken place in Syria before. "But on this occasion there is none".

She said of the alleged chemical attack that "Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its cover-ups". Our warnings have been left unheard.

On Sunday, the day after the attack, the U.S. president said Russian President Vladimir Putin bore responsibility for the "atrocity" in rebel-held Douma, because of his support for the Syrian government.

"Even non-significant incidents would lead to new waves of migrants to Europe and to other consequences, which neither we nor our European neighbours need", Lavrov said.

Now, the US-Russia relationship, already under severe strain over issues from Russian meddling in the 2016 American presidential campaign to its role in Syria and Ukraine, may be irretrievably broken for the foreseeable future.

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Russia's demand for condemnation and an immediate halt to "aggression" and "any further use of force" by the U.S., Britain and France got support from only two other countries on the 15-member council - China and Bolivia.

Any US strike is likely to involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defence systems.

President Vladimir Putin used the pause to engage in some diplomatic exchanges, which had neither the feeling of urgency nor any chance for success.

"It will be in defense of a bedrock worldwide norm that benefits all nations", Haley said.

What has Trump said about the attack? He said he takes "a back seat to no one" in his view of the threat that Russian Federation presents to the US.

While Mr Martin said most targeting of the United Kingdom had been aimed at government bodies and critical national infrastructure, USA officials said everything "from large enterprises to small home offices" could be affected. Last month the Trump administration blamed Russian Federation for a campaign of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the USA power grid. Another official said Bolton did not advocate for any particular position beyond agreeing that the United States should retaliate for the attack if it was clear what chemicals had been used and who used them.

Speaking in Moscow, Lavrov said a mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was due to arrive in Damascus on Saturday and would plan to go to Douma "without delay", where Russian specialists had found "no evidence" of the use of chemical weapons or chlorine. It "could be very soon or not so soon at all", he said.

Assad, who is supported by Iranian-back fighters as well as the Russian air force, has cemented his control over most of the western, more heavily populated, part of the country. Russian Federation is Assad's most powerful ally and its devastating air power has helped him wrest back large areas of territory from rebels since 2015.

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