An Iranian news agency quoted former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as saying Syria's government had attacked its own people with chemical weapons, but later replaced the story with a different version that did not attribute blame for the raid.
The second version by the Iranian Labor News Agency (described by Reuters as “semi-official”) reported Rafsanjani 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 first version 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 Aug. 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."
Press TV, an English-language media arm of the government, quoted Rafsanjani Saturday with a statement more in line with official policy: “It seems that the main objective of U.S. adventurism in the region is not limited to Syria and engulfs the entire region. … A U.S. attack and aggression will probably not be confined to Syria and the outbreak of war in this country and in fact their dangerous warmongering game could engulf the entire region.”
“Rafsanjani warned the U.S. and its allies against attacking Syria and said they might start the war of their own will but the end of this war would be out of their control,” according to Press TV. “He also underlined the strategic significance of Syria in the region and said Damascus was the stronghold of resistance against the Zionist regime.”
Rafsanjani, 79, was president of Iran in the 1990s. He is a close ally of the new president, Hassan Rouhani – after being barred by Guardian Council for running in this year’s election himself -- and chairs the Expediency Council, which advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He was at odds with former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and at times with Khamenei.
Iranian soldiers suffered chemical weapons attacks by Saddam Hussein's forces during the country's 1980-1988 war with Iraq, and Iran has repeatedly condemned their use.