Russia vetoes UN resolution on Syria attack, China abstains

UNITED NATIONS, April 12 (Reuters) - Russia blocked a Western effort at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to condemn last week's deadly gas attack in Syria and push Moscow's ally President Bashar al-Assad to cooperate with international inquiries into the incident.

It was the eighth time during Syria's six-year-old civil war that Moscow has used its veto power on the Security Council to shield Assad's government.

In the latest veto, Russia blocked a draft resolution backed by the United States, France and Britain to denounce the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun and tell Assad's government to provide access for investigators and information such as flight plans.

RELATED: Russian forces in Syria

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Russian forces in Syria
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Russian forces in Syria
Russian soldiers walk in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
A Russian soldier walks to a military vehicle in goverment controlled Hanono housing district in Aleppo, Syria December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Russian soldiers carry their weapons in the Old City of Aleppo, Syria January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
Russian soldiers, on armoured vehicles, patrol a street in Aleppo, Syria February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
Men inspect the wreckage of a Russian helicopter that had been shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province, Syria August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Rebel fighters stand in line past Russian soldiers (back) as they wait to evacuate the besieged Waer district in the central Syrian city of Homs, after an agreement was reached between rebels and Syria's army, March 18, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Russian soldiers, on armored vehicles, patrol a street in Aleppo, Syria February 2, 2017. Picture taken February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
A man looks towards a Russian helicopter as it flies over ruins in the historic city of Palmyra, Syria March 4, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
A Russian soldier stands near a bus carrying people who came back to inspect their homes in government controlled Hanono housing district in Aleppo, Syria December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Russian soldiers stand near food aid being distributed to Syrians evacuated from eastern Aleppo, in government controlled Jibreen area in Aleppo, Syria November 30, 2016. The text on the bag, showing Syrian and Russian national flags, reads in Arabic: "Russia is with you". REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Russian soldiers and civilians walk along a street in Aleppo, Syria January 30, 2017. Picture taken January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
A Russian soldier drives a military vehicle in Aleppo, Syria December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Russian soldiers, on armoured vehicles, patrol a street in Aleppo, Syria February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Residents look at Russian vehicles in Aleppo, Syria December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Russian soldiers gather as rebel fighters and their families evacuate the besieged Waer district in the central Syrian city of Homs, after an agreement reached between rebels and Syria's army, Syria March 18, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
Russian soldiers, on armoured vehicles, patrol a street in Aleppo, Syria February 2, 2017. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
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The toxic gas attack on April 4 prompted the United States to launch missile strikes on a Syrian air base and widened a rift between the United States and Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that trust had eroded between the two countries under U.S. President Donald Trump.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson echoed that comment after meetings with Russian leaders in Moscow, saying that relations are at a low point with a low level of trust. Tillerson called for Assad to eventually relinquish power.

WATCH: Trump holds joint press conference with NATO secretary general in wake of Syrian chemical attack

China, which has vetoed six resolutions on Syria since the civil war began, abstained from Wednesday's U.N. vote, along with Ethiopia and Kazakhstan. Ten countries voted in favor of the text, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting no.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned Moscow against protecting Assad, who relies on support from Russia and Iran in his conflict with mostly Sunni Muslim rebels.

"To my colleagues from Russia - you are isolating yourselves from the international community every time one of Assad's planes drop another barrel bomb on civilians and every time Assad tries to starve another community to death," Haley said during a Security Council meeting earlier on Wednesday.

Haley added: "Iran is dumping fuel on the flames of this war in Syria so it can expand its own reach."

Horrific images from the Syria gas attack

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Syria gas attack
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ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH People stand near a dead body, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
A man breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Men stand near dead bodies, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following an attack on April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds an injured baby inside a Turkish ambulance as injured Syrian people enter into Turkey from the Cilvegozu border gate in Hatay province, near the Syrian border on April 4, 2017. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on April 4, 2017 condemned a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an 'inhuman' strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital. / AFP PHOTO / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A wounded kid receives medical treatment at sahra hospital after Assad Regime forces's attack with chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Abdulghani Arian/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A woman gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A child gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Turkish officials with chemical clothes carry a injured man on April 4, 2017 in Hatay province, near the Syrian border. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on April 4, 2017 condemned a suspected chemical attack in northwestern Syria as an 'inhuman' strike that could endanger peace talks based in the Kazakh capital. / AFP PHOTO / DOGAN NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Bodies lie in the parking area of a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. A suspected chemical attack killed at least 58 civilians including several children in rebel-held northwestern Syria, a monitor said, with the opposition accusing the government and demanding a UN investigation. / AFP PHOTO / Omar haj kadour (Photo credit should read OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - APRIL 4: A child gets treatment at a hospital after Assad Regime forces attacked with suspected chlorine gas to Khan Shaykhun town of Idlib, Syria on April 4, 2017. (Photo by Bahjat Najar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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ATTACK INVESTIGATION

A fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is investigating last week's attack in a rebel-held area of northern Syria.

If it determines that chemical weapons were used, then a joint U.N./OPCW investigation will look at the incident to determine who is to blame. This team has already found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015 and that Islamic State militants used mustard gas.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the Security Council that samples taken from the site of the April 4 attack had been analyzed by British scientists and tested positive for the nerve gas sarin. He said Assad's government was responsible.

During a heated Security Council exchange before Wednesday's vote, Russia's deputy U.N. envoy Vladimir Safronkov told the 15-member body that Western countries were wrong to blame Assad for the gas attack.

"I'm amazed that this was the conclusion. No one has yet visited the site of the crime. How do you know that?" he said.

US airstrikes in Syria

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US airstrikes in Syria -- launches and impact
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US airstrikes in Syria -- launches and impact

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017.

(Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image, released by the Pentagon following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes from Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS Ross and USS Porter on April 7, 2017.

(DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017.

(Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Shayrat Airfield in Homs, Syria is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image released by the U.S. Defense Department on April 6, 2017 after announcing U.S. forces conducted a cruise missile strike against the Syrian Air Force airfield. DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. MANDATORY CREDIT.

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017.

(Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea on April 7, 2017.

(Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Shayrat Airfield in Homs, Syria is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image on February 18, 2017 and released by the U.S. Defense Department on April 6, 2017 after announcing U.S. forces conducted a cruise missile strike against the Syrian Air Force airfield. 

(DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.

(Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. Porter, forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/Released)

Battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image, released by the Pentagon following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes from Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS Ross and USS Porter on April 7, 2017. 

(DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.

(Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTER)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.

(Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image, released by the Pentagon following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes from Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS Ross and USS Porter on April 7, 2017. 

(DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS)

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017.

(Ford Williams/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Syrian shepherds tend their flock near the damaged Shayrat ('ash-Shairat') airfield at the Syrian government forces military base targeted earlier overnight by US Tomahawk cruise missiles, southeast of the central and third largest Syrian city of Homs, on April 7, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on April 7, 2017 shows a view of the damaged Shayrat ('ash-Shairat') airfield at the Syrian government forces military base targeted earlier overnight by US Tomahawk cruise missiles, southeast of the central and third largest Syrian city of Homs. / AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
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Syria's government has denied responsibility for the attack.

Diplomats said that Russia has put forward a rival draft resolution that expresses concern at last week's gas attack and condemns the U.S. strike on Syria. It was unclear if Moscow planned to put the text to a vote.

Syrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said Syria had sent dozens of letters to the Security Council, some detailing "the smuggling of sarin from Libya through Turkey on a civilian air plane by using a Syrian citizen."

"Two liters of sarin were transported from Libya through Turkey to terrorist groups in Syria," he said, adding that the government does "not have these weapons."

Western powers say the April 4 gas attack was carried out from the air and that Syrian rebels do not have any aircraft.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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