Iran denies ex-president said Assad's forces used poison gas

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's foreign ministry on Monday denied reported comments by ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani accusing the Syrian government of using poison gas in the country's civil war, saying the remarks had been "distorted".

On Sunday, the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) quoted Rafsanjani as saying Syrian authorities had fired chemical weapons at their own people - a striking assertion given Tehran's close alliance with Damascus. Hours later ILNA replaced the report with one that did not attribute blame for the attack.

"The statements of the chair of the Expediency Council (Rafsanjani) were distorted and have been denied by his office," said Marzieh Afkham, spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, according to the ISNA news agency.

ILNA initially quoted Rafsanjani as saying, "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.

In ILNA's subsequent report, he was quoted as saying: "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."

Rafsanjani was alluding to U.S. preparations for a punitive military strike against Assad over the chemical attack.

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 the gas attack in an embattled suburb of Damascus on August 21.

Rafsanjani is a close ally of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and chairs Iran's Expediency Council, which advises clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian soldiers suffered poison gas attacks during the country's 1980-88 war with Iraq, and Iranian leaders have repeatedly condemned the use of chemical weapons.

(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati, Editing by WIlliam Maclean and Mark Heinrich)

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