Russia has condemned the chemical attack in Syria as a planned provocation and slammed Western calls to use force against the Syrian government.

At the same time, Moscow said it was “encouraging” Damascus to cooperate with the U.N. team of chemical experts now in Syria.

The Foreign Ministry said evidence was piling up that the reported gas attack near Damascus on Wednesday was “patently provocative in nature”. It pointed out that internet reports implicating the Syrian government had been posted hours before the alleged use of chemical weapons took place.

Moscow accused the rebels of “directly impeding an objective investigation” of the incident by failing to guarantee the safety of the U.N. chemical weapons team.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his U.S. counterpart John Kerry, who called him on telephone on Thursday that Moscow “had called on the Syrian government to cooperate with the U.N. chemical experts.”

Both Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry agreed on the need for an “objective investigation.”

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