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Confusion after Syrian air defence system ‘false alarm’

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An "electronic attack" was one of a handful of reasons given for why Syria's air defence system kicked into action last night, as the country's state media stepped back from initial reports that it had been hit by another round of missile strikes.

Key points:

  • State television earlier reported missiles were fired at two air bases
  • Syria is now reporting there were no missiles, and it was a false alarm
  • A commander said a joint "electronic attack" caused the incident

Reports in government-run media earlier on Tuesday claimed missiles were fired at an air base in the Homs area, while a media unit run by the Lebanese group Hezbollah said missiles had also targeted an air base near Damascus.

State television even showed pictures of a missile it said was shot in the air above the air base.

Syrian media is now attributing the incident to a false alarm, and not a missile strike from an unknown attacker.

Complicating matters, a commander in the regional military alliance that backs the Syrian government told Reuters the malfunction was caused by "a joint electronic attack" from Israel and the United States targeting the Syrian radar system.

The commander, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the issue had been dealt with by Russian experts.

The Pentagon denied any American military activity in the area on Tuesday. There was no comment from Israel.

The initial reports of a missile strike were reported by Syrian state TV and the government-run Syrian Central Media, but not by the official news agency SANA on its website.

The incident underscored fears of a further escalation in the Syrian conflict after a US, British and French attack on Syrian targets on Saturday and an air strike on an air base the previous week that Damascus blamed on Israel.

The most recent strikes were conducted in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack that they blamed on the Syrian government.

Inspectors wait to access suspected gas attack site

Video purports to show remains of missile dropped on Douma

Syrian and Russian authorities have prevented investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) from going to the scene of the alleged gas attack.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Syrian and Russian officials cited "pending security issues" in keeping its inspectors from reaching Douma.

"The team has not yet deployed to Douma," Mr Uzumcu told an executive council meeting of the OPCW in The Hague.

Instead, Syrian authorities offered them 22 people to interview as witnesses, he said, adding that he hoped "all necessary arrangements will be made … to allow the team to deploy to Douma as soon as possible".

Igor Kirillov, a Russian chemical weapons protection expert in The Hague, said the team is set to visit the site on Wednesday.

Earlier Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the inspectors could not go to the site because they needed approval from the UN Department for Safety and Security.

He denied that Russia was hampering the mission and suggested the approval was held up because of the Western airstrikes.

However, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the United Nations has "provided the necessary clearances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not denied the team any request for it to go to Douma."

The US and France say they have evidence poison gas was used in the April 7 attack in Douma, killing at least 40 people, and that Syrian President Bashar Assad's military was behind it.

Syria and its ally Russia deny any chemical attack took place, and Russian officials went even further, accusing Britain of staging a "fake" chemical attack.

British Prime Minister Theresa May accused the two countries — whose forces now control the town east of Damascus — of trying to cover up evidence.

ABC and wires

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