Over 100 missiles rocked the Syrian capital of Damascus and surrounding areas on Saturday as Western forces launched a coordinated and targeted attack on the country. In the biggest intervention against the Bashar al-Assad regime till date, the United States, Britain and France struck military targets and alleged chemical weapons sites. The strikes were in response to the poison gas attack in the eastern Ghouta town of Douma on April 7, which killed at least 60 people and injured several others.
The three countries launched cruise missiles from manned aircraft and ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Three facilities were targeted in the airstrikes, including a Syrian centre for research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological weaponry and a chemical weapons storage facility, reported The Associated Press. No casualties were reported in Saturday’s strikes.
Strikes against crimes of a monster, says Trump
US President Donald Trump, addressing the nation, said the precision strikes were to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons.” Blaming the Assad regime for last week’s attack, Trump said the massacre of innocent civilians was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by the government.
“The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead,” Trump said, in a televised address from the White House.
This is the second time the US has responded to a chemical attack in Syria — the country destroyed 20 per cent of the Syrian Air Force in April 2017 with 58 missiles, Trump said. Questioning Iran and Russia, the “most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime”, Trump asked: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”
Trump added that he had no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.
US Defence Minister Jim Mattis, meanwhile, called Saturday’s attack a “one-time shot” to send the Assad regime a strong message. He further described it as a heavy but limited assault.
Express Explained | How nerve gas and other chemical weapons kill, in Syria or elsewhere
Responding to circumstances of ‘pure horror’: UK PM
Prime Minister of the United Kingdoms, Theresa May, said there was no practical alternative to deter the use of chemical weapons by Syria. “The fact of this attack should surprise no-one. The Syrian regime has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way,” May said.
The fact of this attack should surprise no-one
She added, “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties. And while this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian Regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.”
France, meanwhile, called the intervention “proportionate and targeted”, adding that it was not intended for any of Assad’s allies. French President Emmanuel Macron said he ordered intervention as the “red line” has been crossed.
According to Reuters, the French government has declassified a national intelligence report with evidence of Syria’s hand in the chemical attack.
Has Syria responded?
Denouncing the strikes, the Syrian government called it a “brutal, barbaric aggression” that violated international law. In a statement, the foreign ministry said, “The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the brutal American-British-French aggression against Syria, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law,” reported AFP.
“The timing of the aggression coincides with the arrival of the OPCW mission to Syria to investigate the alleged chemical attack in Douma, and mainly aims at hindering the mission’s work and preempting its results,” the Syrian regime said, in comments carried by state news agency SANA.
Putin to call emergency UNSC meet
Russian premier Vladimir Putin, condemning the attack, has called for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council. He described it as an “act of aggression” that will exacerbate humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, reported AP. Maintaining that the chemical attack was not carried out by the Assad regime, Putin reportedly added that the strike had a “destructive influence on the entire system of international relations.”
What are the other countries which have responded to the air strikes?
Iran, Syria’s most supportive ally, condemned the aggression. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the attack a “crime” and said declared the leaders of three countries “criminals”. He said, “They will not benefit (from the attack) as they went to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan in the past years and committed such crimes and did not gain any benefits.”
Iran’s foreign ministry further said, “Undoubtedly, the United States and its allies, which took military action against Syria despite the absence of any proven evidence, will assume responsibility for the regional and trans-regional consequences of this adventurism.” It added that Iran is opposed to the use of chemical weapons but “strongly condemns” (using this) as an excuse to commit aggression against a sovereign state.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, coming out in support of the airstrikes on Syria, said it was “necessary and appropriate”. She was quoted by Reuters as saying, “We support the fact that our American, British and French allies have taken responsibility in this way as permanent members of the UN Security Council.” Earlier this week, Merkel said Germany would not initiate military action against Syria.
Turkey and Israel welcomed the strikes as well.
“We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma, largely suspected to have been carried out by the regime,” the Turkish foreign ministry said, reported AFP. Israel, on the other hand, said the strikes were justified because of Syria’s “murderous actions”.
(With inputs from agencies)