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Saturday, Aug 17, 2019

US launches air strikes on Syria after chemical attack, Russia calls it military crime

US defense secretary James Mattis says the strikes are a “one-time shot” unless the Syrian government carries out more chemical weapons attacks, which could attract more retaliatory action from the allies.

world Updated: Apr 15, 2018 07:24 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House in Washington.
US President Donald Trump makes a statement about Syria at the White House in Washington. (Reuters Photo)

The United States said on Saturday it “dealt a severe blow” to the “heart” Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure in a joint military strike it carried out early in the morning with allies Britain and France in retaliation for a suspected gas attack earlier in the month that killed more than 40 people and injured hundreds.

The US and its allies have accused Syria’s Bashar al-Assad of ordering a chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town Douma, just outside Damascus, on April 7 that killed more than 40 people. They have alleged the Syrian government used chlorine gas in that attack, and possibly others

“These are not the actions of a man,” Trump said in an address to the nation on Friday from the White House Diplomatic Room. “They are crimes of a monster instead.”

Mission accomplished,” he wrote on Twitter on Saturday, forgetting perhaps that the last time a US president used those two words, things had not gone too well — when President George W Bush declared victory in the Iraq war just weeks after the 2003 invasion. The war dragged on for years.

Syria’s chief allies, Russia and Iran, called the use of force by the United States, Britain and France a “military crime” and “act of aggression” with the potential to worsen a humanitarian crisis after years of civil war. The UN Security Council planned to meet later Saturday at Moscow’s request.

“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syrian President Bashar Assad tweeted, while hundreds of Syrians gathered in Damascus, the capital, where they flashed victory signs and waved flags in scenes of defiance after the one-hour barrage launched early Saturday.

Officials in the Indian government said the situation was being closely monitored. “The alleged use of chemical weapons, if true, is deplorable. We call for an impartial and objective investigation by the OPCW to establish the facts,” said a spokesperson for the foreign ministry, adding that New Delhi would also urge all parties to “show restraint” and avoid any “further escalation” in the situation.

OPCW is short for Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

“The matter should be resolved through dialogue and negotiations, and on the basis of the principles of the UN Charter and in accordance with international law,” said the official.

For now though, the allies were done. Defense secretary James Mattis said the Friday strikes were a “one-time shot”. But more could follow if there were more CW attacks, American officials have said, The United States had first struck Syria in April 2017 after a chemical weapons attack, launching 58 Tomahawk missiles against a an airbase.

Before a planned Pentagon briefing on Saturday, American officials said Air Force B-1B strategic bombers launched JASSM “standoff” missiles for the first time in combat, evading Syrian air defences. In all, the Navy launched a little more than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles from destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea. The officials, who provided details on condition of anonymity ahead of public announcements, said Syria’s air defences were ineffective.

A global chemical warfare watchdog group said its fact-finding mission would go as planned in Douma, where the apparent use of poison gas against civilians on April 7 that killed more than 40 people compelled the Western allies to launch their attack. Syria has denied the accusation.

But France’s foreign minister said there was “no doubt” the Assad government was responsible, and he threatened further retaliatory strikes if chemical weapons were used again, as did Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, who said the assault was a “one-time shot,” as long as chemical weapons weren’t used again.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin reaffirmed the Kremlin’s skepticism about the allies’ Douma claim, saying Russian military experts had found no trace of the attack. He criticized the U.S. and its allies for launching the strike without waiting for international inspectors to visit the area.

But British Prime Minister Theresa May cited reports she said indicated the Syrian government used a barrel bomb – large containers packed with fuel, explosives and scraps of metal – to deliver the chemicals. “No other group” could have carried out that attack, she said, adding that the allies’ use of force was “right and legal.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the West’s response was “necessary and appropriate.”

(With inputs from Associated Press in Washington and HT Correspondent in New Delhi)

First Published: Apr 14, 2018 06:58 IST

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