Middle East

Iranian agency drops Rafsanjani remarks critical of Syrian government

A masked Syrian living in Japan and his supporters display anti-Syrian President Bashar Assad banners during a protest rally in front of the United Nations office in Tokyo, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

BEIRUT/ DUBAI: An Iranian news agency quoted former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as saying Syria's government had attacked its own people with chemical weapons, but later replaced the report with a different version that did not attribute blame for the raid.

The second version by the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency reported him as saying on Sunday: "On the one hand the people of Syria are the target of a chemical attack, and now they must wait for an attack by foreigners."

In the earlier version, the quote was: "The people have been the target of a chemical attack by their own government and now they must also wait for an attack by foreigners."

However, a spokesman for the former president denied Saturday that Rafsanjani had ever made the remarks, saying his comments had been "distorted."

"Mr. Hashemi's statement has been distorted," Reza Soleimani, the director of public relations for the Expediency Council, which Rafsanjani heads, said in remarks carried by several Iranian media agencies.

"Mr. Hashemi's stance on Syria, Palestine and Lebanon is clear," Soleimani said.

Soleimani was forced to deny the comments after they appeared on the Facebook page of Naeimeh Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.

Iran is a strong backer of embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad, who the United States has accused of killing 1,400 people with poison gas in a Damascus suburb on August 21.

Rafsanjani is a close ally of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian soldiers suffered chemical weapons attacks during the country's 1980-1988 war with Iraq, and Iran has repeatedly condemned their use. - with Reuters





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