Syrian government blames 'western-backed terrorist groups' for sarin attack
A Syrian rebel tries on a gas mask in the northwestern province of Idlib (AFP)

The Syrian government has accused the Obama administration and other unspecified western countries of supporting terrorist groups inside Syria and of supplying chemical agents for use in poison gas attacks launched by al-Qaida and its affiliates.

In a defiant speech to the general assembly of the United Nations, Syria's deputy prime minister, Walid al-Moualem, accepted no blame for the recent sarin nerve gas attack on suburban Damascus that killed hundreds of civilians. Instead, he pointed the finger for the outrages at what he described as western-backed terrorist groups.

Referring to the 9/11 attacks on New York, he asked: "How can some countries, hit by the same terrorism we are suffering now in Syria, claim to fight terrorism in all parts of the world while supporting it in my country?"

In colourful language, he went on to claim that terrorist insurgents were engaging in cannibalism inside Syria. "The scenes of murder, manslaughter and eating human hearts were shown on TV screens, but did not touch blind consciences.

"In my country, there are innocent civilians whose heads are put on the grill just because they violate the extremist ideology and deviant views of al-Qaida. There are murderers who dismember human bodies into pieces while still alive and send their limbs to their families, just because those citizens are defending a unified and secular Syria."

Al-Moualem's breathless rhetoric came as an international team of chemical weapons experts set out from The Hague bound for Syria under the mandate of last week's UN security council resolution calling for the dismantling of Syria's large arsenal. Twenty inspectors will arrive in Damascus on Tuesday.

Al-Moualem told the UN that his government had accepted the Russian initiative to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons and had acceded to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. But his resounding criticism of US backing for opposition groups in Syria's ongoing civil war underlines how delicate the task facking the UN inspectors will be.

"I assure you of Syria's commitment to the full implementation of the provisions of the convention," the deputy prime minister said. But he then added: "There remains the challenge whether those who are supplying terrorists with these types of weapon will abide by their legal commitments, since terrorists, who used poisoned gases in my country, have received chemical agents from regional and Western countries that are well known to all of us." © Guardian News and Media 2013