DUBAI (Reuters) - An Iranian news agency quoted former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as saying Syria’s government had attacked its own people with chemical weapons, but later replaced the report with a different version that did not attribute blame for the raid.
The second version by the semi-official Iranian Labour News Agency reported him as saying on Sunday: “On the one hand the people of Syria are the target of a chemical attack, and now they must wait for an attack by foreigners.”
In the earlier version, the quote was: “The people have been the target of a chemical attack by their own government and now they must also wait for an attack by foreigners.”
The earlier version of his remarks differed sharply from comments by other Iranian officials, who have said rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were responsible for a poison gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.
The attack has drawn Western threats of military reprisals against the Syrian government, an ally of Iran.
In other remarks which were unchanged, Rafsanjani went on: “Right now America, the Western world along with some of the Arab countries are nearly issuing a clarion call for war in Syria - may God have mercy on the people of Syria,” he said.
“The people of Syria have seen much damage in these two years, the prisons are overflowing and they’ve converted stadiums into prisons, more than 100,000 people killed and millions displaced,” he added.
Rafsanjani is a close ally of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and chairs Iran’s Expediency Council, which advises Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iranian soldiers suffered chemical weapons attacks during the country’s 1980-1988 war with Iraq, and Iran has repeatedly condemned their use.
Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati, Editing by William Maclean and Jon Boyle