World leaders, locals welcome Syria strikes
By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo and AFP
In the biggest foreign military action so far against Syria's regime, Western officials said a barrage of cruise and air-to-land missiles hit early Saturday (April 14th) what they said were sites linked to chemical weapons development in the country.
The US, Britain and France carried out the pre-dawn strikes in response to a suspected April 7th chemical weapons attack, lighting up the sky of Damascus as explosions shook the city.
Branding last week's alleged gas attack the "crimes of a monster", US President Donald Trump announced the action against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in a White House address.
Targeting chemical weapons infrastructure
The targets included a scientific research facility in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs and a third location near Homs that contained both a command post and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility, the US military said.
Syrian state media reported only three people injured, while Russia's defence ministry said there were "no victims" among Syrian civilians and military personnel.
US General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there were no plans for further operations and indicated they took pains to avoid hitting any military assets of Russia, which supports al-Assad's regime.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the "scientific research centres" and "several military bases" hit in the strikes had been "completely evacuated".
Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, north of Damascus, "destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre".
France announced that the combined strikes had destroyed a "large part" of Damascus's stocks of chemical weapons.
US, British and French "naval and air assets" took part in the strikes, which US defense chief James Mattis said employed more than twice the amount of munitions used during American strikes in Syria last year, in which 59 Tomahawk missiles were fired.
Britain's defense ministry said that four Tornado jets had fired Storm Shadow missiles at the base west of Homs.
France said it fired three cruise missiles from frigates in the Mediterranean and nine from Rafale fighter jets deployed from home bases.
The US reportedly used B-1 bombers in the strikes, but the American military declined to provide specifics.
The Russian military said the allies had fired a total of 103 cruise missiles, but that Syrian air defense systems managed to intercept 71 of them.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Saturday that France had "solid intelligence" that the Syrian regime was behind the gas attack in the opposition-held city of Douma last weekend, which monitors say killed at least 40 people.
"The analyses are not yet finished... but will allow us to identify all the gases. There was chlorine, that is certain," and preliminary evidence points to other gases as well, he said.
But although France has determined that high-ranking officers in the Syrian army ordered the attack, Le Drian said he could not state with certainty that al-Assad himself was behind those orders.
He warned, however, that France would not hesitate to strike Syria again in case of further chemical attacks.
"On the question of chemical weapons, there is a red line that must not be crossed, and if it should be crossed again, there will be another intervention," Le Drian said.
"But I think the lesson has been learned."
"The point is to make sure there is no proliferation of chemical weapons," he added. "The point was not to impact the regime's allies, nor even to impact the institutional functioning of the Syrian regime."
Le Drian also said that for now President Emmanuel Macron still planned to travel to Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin in May, while urging Moscow to work constructively on applying UN Security Council resolutions on Syria.
"We have to keep talking with Russia, and Russia needs to realise that it has voted in favour of UN security resolutions (on Syria) and that they must be applied today, and not be carried away by the barbarity of Bashar al-Assad," he said.
Qatar was the first Gulf country to react. A statement published by the official news agency expressed support for strikes to stop attacks by the Syrian regime against civilians.
Saudi Arabia on Saturday expressed its full support for the strikes, saying they were a response to "regime crimes" against civilians, according to a foreign ministry statement.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a statement backed the strikes, saying they "will reduce the regime's ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons".
"We welcome this operation which has eased humanity's conscience in the face of the attack in Douma," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement. It accused Damascus of "crimes against humanity".
European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that the European Union supported the strikes and "will stand with our allies on the side of justice".
German chancellor Angela Merkel called the strikes a "necessary and appropriate military intervention".
The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain defended the strikes as justified by evidence of a chemical attack.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged "all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people".
Syrians welcome strikes
Syrians in rural Damascus who spoke with Diyaruna welcomed the strikes, saying they were "eagerly" awaiting them.
Dr. Hanan Ibrahim, who is currently stationed in Douma, told Diyaruna this was the first time she felt "happy" to hear the sound of airstrikes.
"The strikes were eagerly awaited by most Syrians since the regime relies on its air capabilities, with which it carries out bombings with internationally banned materials as a tool to pressure civilians and opposition fighters alike to force them to stop fighting or to displace them to other areas, as happened in Eastern Ghouta," she said.
"Syrians in rural Damascus were awaiting a big moment tonight," said local activist Bahaa al-Sahli.
"They saw with their own eyes explosions in regime bases that were used recently to take the lives of many of their relatives and friends," he said.
"The strikes will significantly inhibit the regime’s criminal behavior," he added.
The UN Security Council will meet Saturday at Russia's request to discuss the latest strikes. Secretary-General Guterres will brief the council during the public meeting scheduled for 11 a.m., a UN official said.
Meanwhile, experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are continuing their mission to probe the alleged gas attack in Douma despite the Western airstrikes in Syria, the body said Saturday.
The OPCW has been "working in close collaboration" with UN security experts "to assess the situation and ensure the safety of the team", it said.