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Sep 21, 9:06 AM EDT

Syria blasts coalition against Islamic State


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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Syria's parliament speaker said Sunday that the U.S. should work with Damascus in assembling a coalition to battle the Islamic State extremist group rather than allying with nations that support terrorism.

Speaker Jihad Laham was apparently referring to Saudi Arabia and other countries that back rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Lahham said during a parliament session that nations that "want to fight terrorism should coordinate" with Damascus rather than Syrian rebel groups.

His comments came as Syria's Foreign Ministry warned in a statement that opposition fighters could use chemical weapons in order to blame government forces and create a pretext "for an aggression against Syria and its people."

The statement said that Damascus does not have chemical weapons after it implemented all its obligations regarding the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The OPCW said earlier this month that a toxic chemical, almost certainly chlorine, was used "systematically and repeatedly" as a weapon in attacks on villages in northern Syria earlier this year. The organization said that a report by a fact-finding mission it sent to Syria based its conclusion on dozens of interviews with victims, physicians, eye-witnesses and others.

The OPCW report does not apportion blame for the chlorine attacks on three villages in northern Syria.

Syrian state media and activists reported several poison gas attacks this year including one in April in the central village of Kfar Zeita that wounded scores of people. The government and the rebels blamed each other for the attack.

Last year, President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he was widely expected to announce punishing U.S. airstrikes against Assad's forces after blaming them for a deadly chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds. Damascus blamed opposition fighters for the attack.

"The Syrian Arab republic has repeatedly confirmed, and confirms once again, that it will never use chemical weapons under any circumstance and warns simultaneously of the possibility that some regional and international parties ... might supply armed terrorist groups with chemical weapons," the Foreign Ministry said.

Obama is currently working to form a global coalition to confront the Islamic State group, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq. The U.S. meanwhile has been conducting airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq since August. Obama last week authorized strikes against the group in Syria.

U.S. officials have ruled out direct coordination with Assad's government.

Lahham, the parliament speaker, said those "who really want to combat terrorism, must cooperate with Syria in accordance with long-term plans and not by supporting terrorist organization under false titles."

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