Washington: The United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, but also stirred up angry responses from Syria's allies and ignited a debate over whether the attacks were justified.
The UN Security Council will meet on Saturday at Russia's request to discuss air strikes launched by the United States, France and Britain on Syria in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack. The open meeting is scheduled for 11am (1500 GMT).
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the Friday night raids as aggression that will make the humanitarian crisis in Syria worse and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations' Security Council. Putin added that the strike had a "destructive influence on the entire system of international relations."
Damascus skies erupt with anti-aircraft fire and smoke as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Damascus has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as US President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. — AP
What we know so far:
■ US President Donald Trump orders strikes targeting Syrian regime's chemical weapons programme in response to a chemical attack last weekend.
■ Barzah district, the location of a major Syrian scientific research centre in Damascus, hit in the strikes, according to witnesses.
■ State-controlled Syrian TV said Syrian claims air defences shot down 13 missiles fired in the attack.
■ The Russian defence ministry said none of the rockets launched had entered zones where Russian air defence systems are protecting military facilities in Tartus and Hmeimim
■ B-1 bombers, ships were used in the attack, according to US defense officials
■ US, British and French forces pounded Syria with more than 100 missile strikes early on Saturday
■ It is the biggest intervention by Western powers against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff leaves a briefing at the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, April 14, 2018. Rudskoi says Saturday's strike hasn't caused any casualties and Syrian military facilities targeted by the U.S., Britain and France have suffered only minor damage. — AP
“Absorbed the strike”
At least six loud explosions were heard in Damascus and smoke was seen rising over the city, a Reuters witness said.
A second witness said the Barzah district of Damascus had been hit in the strikes. Barzah is the location of a major Syrian scientific research centre.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry condemned the US-led attacks and said Washington and its allies would bear responsibility for the consequences in the region and beyond, state media reported.
State-controlled Syrian TV said Syrian air defences shot down 13 missiles fired in the attack. The Russian defence ministry said none of the rockets launched had entered zones where Russian air defence systems are protecting military facilities in Tartus and Hmeimim.
The combined US, British and French assault appeared more intense than a similar strike Trump ordered almost exactly a year ago against a Syrian air base in retaliation for an earlier chemical weapons attack that Washington attributed to Assad.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Marine General Joseph Dunford said three main chemical weapons facilities were targeted by both missiles from the sea and fired from aircraft, which triggered Syrian air defenses.
Smoke rises after airstrikes targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as the US announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. — AP
The Pentagon could not confirm how many missiles hit their targets.
Mattis and Dunford acknowledged the strike was designed to degrade Syria's chemical weapons capability without killing civilians or the many foreign fighters in Syria's multi-sided civil war, particularly those from Russia.
"We specifically identified these targets to mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved," Dunford told reporters, adding the US military advised Russia of airspace that would be used in the strike but did not "pre-notify them."
Syrian soldiers wave weapons and dance as they chant slogans against U.S. President Trump during demonstrations following a wave of US, British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for suspected chemical attack against civilians, in Damascus, Syria, Saturday, April 14, 2018. Hundreds of Syrians are demonstrating in a landmark square in the Syrian capital, waving victory signs and honking their car horns in a show of defiance. — AP
Mattis acknowledged that the United States waged the attacks only with conclusive evidence that chlorine gas was used in the April 7 attack in Syria.
— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) April 14, 2018
Allegations of Assad's chlorine use are frequent in Syria's conflict, raising questions about whether Washington had lowered the threshold for military action in Syria by now deciding to strike after a chlorine gas attack.— Strategic Sentinel (@StratSentinel) April 14, 2018
Last year, the United States only waged strikes on Syria after determining that more deadly sarin gas was used and some U.S. media had reported that Washington was confident Assad had also used sarin on April 7.
Putin called the missile strikes an “act of aggression against a sovereign state” and against the United Nation charter. https://t.co/RXnpxQFXAL— CNN (@CNN) April 14, 2018
Mattis, however, suggested the evidence of sarin was so far inconclusive.
"We are very confident that chlorine was used. We are not ruling out sarin right now," Mattis said.
The Pentagon said one of the targets was a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area, which it described as a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological weaponry.
The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs.
"We assess that this was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment," Dunford said.
The third target, which was also near Homs, contained both a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and a command post.
Syrian state media lambasted US-led air strikes on Saturday as a breach of international law and said the attack had targeted army depots in the Homs area.
"The tripartite aggression is a flagrant violation of international law," state news agency SANA said.
#BREAKING Syria air strikes send 'clear message' against use of chemical weapons: British PM May— AFP news agency (@AFP) April 14, 2018
US, British and French forces pounded Syria with strikes early on Saturday after a suspected gas attack killed dozens of people last week, in the biggest intervention by Western powers against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.