LIVE: US pounds Syrian airbase after chemical attack

#SyriaWar

The US fired cruise missiles on Friday at a Syrian airbase, the first direct US assault on Assad in six years of civil war

MEE staff's picture
Last update: 
July 22 Jul 2017 14:55 UTC
Topics: 
  • US jets hit airfield "associated with" deadly nerve-gas attack against village in Idlib province earlier in week
  • Russia warns of damage to relations with the US
  • UK, Turkey, Israel, Gulf states all praise action against Syrian government

UK's Johnson cancels Moscow visit after Syria gas attack

Britain's foreign minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday he had cancelled a visit to Moscow due to take place on April 10 after developments in Syria where a poison gas attack in a rebel-held area prompted the United States to launch missile strikes.

"Developments in Syria have changed the situation fundamentally," Johnson said in a statement.



Idlib Health Directorate: 89 people killed in Idlib chemical attack

The Syrian Civil Defence Force and the Idlib health directorate have released a fourth report documenting the loss of life from the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun. 

Here's a summary of their initial findings:

  • 89 people killed (33 children and 18 women)
  • 541 people injured: All victims suffering from suffocation injuries
  • 54 people referred to Turkish hospitals 

 

 

Iraq condemned 'hasty' intervention in Syria

The Iraqi government issued a statement in reaction to the events in Syria reflecting a difficult balancing act between its alliance with the United States and with Iran, a key backer of Assad.

The statement from Baghdad condemned the chemical attack, without naming Assad, calling instead for an international investigation to identify the perpetrator.

The statement also criticised "the hasty interventions" that followed the chemical attack, in an apparent reference to the U.S. strikes.

 

US suspect Russia bombed hospital treating chemical attack victims

US officials told Buzzfeed News that it suspects Russia may have operated a drone and military aircraft which was used to bomb a hospital treating chemical attack victims.

"Military officials suspect that someone turned off the camera onboard the Russian unmanned drone just before the strike on the hospital Tuesday, effectively turning a blind eye to the attack. The officials did not make clear how the US was able to determine when the drone’s camera was recording."

Read more here...

 

Displaced Syrians approve Trump's airstrikes against Assad

Syrians living in refugee camps have expressed joy and elation after Donald Trump ordered a US Warship to fire more than 50 Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian government airbase. 

Watch here...

Iran's Rouhani calls for 'independent' investigation into chemical attack

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for an independent inquiry into the chemical attack which Trump used to justify his airstrikes against the Syrian government. 

He called for "an independent commission" by "impartial countries" into the claims. 

Speaking during a live televised broadcast, the Iranian president also said that "terrorists" were the only group applauding Trump's US airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad. 

"This man who is now in office in America claimed that he wanted to fight terrorism but today all terrorists in Syria are celebrating the US attack," Rouhani said in a speech aired by state television.
 


Iranian president Hassan Rouhani takes part in a press conference near the United Nations General Assembly (Reuters)

US readying economic sanctions against Syria

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the US would soon impose additional sanctions on Syria, as part of a military, diplomatic and financial response to a chemical attack blamed on the regime.

"We will be announcing additional sanctions on Syria as part of our ongoing effort to stop this type of activity and emphasize how significant we view this," Mnuchin said from Trump's golf resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida.

"We expect that they will continue to have an important effect on preventing people from doing business with them," he added, without offering more details.

 

Jets launch raids from Syria base hit by US: Report

Two warplanes took off from a central Syrian air base Friday hours after it was struck by US missiles and bombed targets nearby, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the aircraft "took off from inside the Shayrat base, which is partially back in service, and struck targets near Palmyra".

According to the Pentagon, initial indications showed the strike had severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft, infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat.

The Syrian army in a statement said six people were killed at the base and that the attack caused "significant damage".

The SANA state news agency said four children were among nine civilians killed in surrounding villages. 

Russia to close down Syria communications line with Pentagon, say reports

Russia's Defence Ministry notified the Pentagon it would close down at 2100 GMT the communications line used to avoid accidental clashes in Syria, Interfax new agency said.

White House says Trump actions clear about what "needs to be get done"

The White House said on Friday that strikes on a Syrian airfield authorised by President Donald Trump send a strong signal to the world, but declined to say whether Trump would approve additional strikes or actions against the Assad government.

"I think that the president's actions were very decisive last night and were clear about what he thinks needs to get done," White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters at a briefing.

"First and foremost, the president believes the Syrian government, the Assad regime, should at the minimum agree to abide by the agreements they've made not to use chemical weapons. I think that should be a minimum standard set around the world," Spicer said.


US president Donald Trump (AFP)

 

 

Russia condemns US "aggression" on Syria

Speaking at a UNSC meeting on Friday, Russia's permenant representative to the UN condemned the US's attack on Syria. 

"We strongly condemn the illigetimate actions of the US. The consequences of this could be extremely serious," he said. "The Syrian armed forces will continue to be the bane against terrorism."

"Washington, London and Paris, have this paranoic idea of overtherowing the legitimate government in Syria. This was clearly shown by the non-diplomatic actions and statements made by the UK."

"Stop putting forward these unpforessional accusation against my country; these are not diplomatic. They are lies," he said addressing the UK, US and France.

"Once again, I warn, don't try to get in inovled in fights in the Arab world," he added. "All Arab countries recall your colonial hypocrisy."

Russia called this emergency UNSC meeting following US strikes on Syria.

 

Egypt: cooperation needed to prevent 'further deterioration'

Speaking at a UNSC meeting on Friday, Egypt's permenant representative to the UN called for cooperation between all parties to avoid "further deterioration" in Syria.

"We are fed up with the statements of regret and condemnation," said Amr Abul Atta. "I insist that everyone abandon these disagreements and these altercations and to focus on the future on the way out of this Syrian maze."

"All parties...should support an immediate ceasefire and move forward...without preconditions."

"I would call on the US and the Russian Federation...to move actively in this direction based on security council resolutions to reach a middle ground and political settlement in Syria."

 

WATCH: UNSC meeting following US strikes on Syria

Red Cross: Situation in Syria constitutes international armed conflict

The situation in Syria "amounts to an international armed conflict" following US missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told Reuters on Friday.

 

The United States fired cruise missiles at a base from which President Donald Trump said a deadly chemical weapons attack had been launched on Tuesday, the first direct US assault on the government of Bashar al-Assad in six years of civil war.

"Any military operation by a state on the territory of another without the consent of the other amounts to an international armed conflict," ICRC spokeswoman Iolanda Jaquemet told Reuters in Geneva in response to a query.

"So according to available information - the US attack on Syrian military infrastructure - the situation amounts to an international armed conflict."

Lebanon's Hezbollah calls US strike on Syria 'idiotic step'

Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah said on Friday a US cruise missile strike on a Syrian airbase was an "idiotic step" which would lead to "great and dangerous tensions" in the Middle East.

Hezbollah, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the six-year-old conflict, said in a statement the strike would not demoralise the Syrian army or negatively affect its allies.

The US military action was a "service" to Israel and its "ambitions in the region," Hezbollah added, without elaborating.

Syria strike brings rare criticism for Trump from France's Le Pen



US President Donald Trump's decision to order a missile strike on Syria brought rare criticism on Friday from French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who has until now viewed the American leader as an ideological soulmate.

The US strike reverberated through the French presidential election campaign, just two weeks before the first round of voting, with most leading candidates taking a cautious, or a critical, stance towards the US action.

"I am a little surprised because Trump had said repeatedly that he didn't intend the United States to be the world's policeman any longer and that is exactly what he did yesterday," Le Pen told France 2 television.

The United States fired cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase on Friday as punishment for a suspected chemical weapons attack on Tuesday which killed at least 70 people.

"Is it too much to ask to wait for the results of an independent international investigation (into Tuesday's attack) before carrying out this kind of strike?" Le Pen asked.

She said she didn't want a repeat of events in Iraq and Libya where she said Western intervention had "brought chaos and ended up strengthening ... terrorist organisations."

 

Erdogan: US strike in Syria not enough, further steps needed



Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday welcomed the US strike on an airbase of the Syrian government but said it was not enough and more action was needed.

"I want to say that I welcome this concrete step as positive," Erdogan, a longtime foe of President Bashar al-Assad, said in a rally in the southern city of Antakya just north of the Syrian border. 

"Is it enough? I don't see this as enough... the time has come for steps for a serious result to protect the oppressed Syrian people," he added.

US President Donald Trump ordered the missile strike in retaliation for the suspected chemical weapons attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun in northwestern Syria's Idlib province that killed dozens and was blamed by many world leaders on Assad.

Erdogan reaffirmed his past calls that international community needed to impose a safe zone in northern Syria - which Ankara has said should be backed by a no-fly zone - to ensure security in the area.

"We again say how important it is for a terror-free safe zone to be created," he told thousands of supporters in the city.

He added: "I want to state something clearly: while children are being massacred in this world, no one has the right to feel themselves safe or in peace."

Free Syria Army: We welcome military action against Assad

A statement from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has welcomed the action carried out in Syria by Trump:

"The FSA welcomes the military action that the US carried out over the Sha'iraat military airport, where the Assad regime's carried out its chemical attacks over Khan Shaikhoon with the support of Assad's allies. We consider this move the first step in the correct direction.

"The various Syrian rebel groups consider this a point of change in the international war on terror. Standing up to the terrorism of Bashar al-Assad and his allies, including sectarian militias, represents a successful political step in the war on terror."



UK Labour leader: missile strike risks 'escalating' war in Syria

Russian military says Syrian air defences to be 'strengthened'



Russian Defence Ministry video shows spokesman Igor Konashenkov making a statement on the US strike on a Syrian air base (HO / Russian Defence

Russia's military on Friday said a US strike on a government air base in Syria was ineffective but announced Syrian air defences would be strengthened to shield the country's key infrastructure.

"To protect Syria's most sensitive infrastructure, a complex of measures will be implemented in the near future to strengthen and improve the effectiveness of the Syrian armed forces' air defence system," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

He added the strike had had an "extremely low" military impact, and fewer than half of the 59 reported US missiles had actually found their target.

"Only 23 missiles reached the Syrian airbase," he said.

The strike on the Shayrat airbase, ordered by US President Donald Trump, destroyed six planes under repair and several buildings, including a storage depot and radio station, he said.

"The runway, taxi ways and Syrian airforce planes at parking spaces are not damaged," he said. 

"The military effectiveness of the massive US missile strike on the Syrian airbase is therefore extremely low."

Separately, the Russian state channel Rossiya24, in a report from the base, said nine planes, as well as munition and fuel depots, had been destroyed but the facility's runway was intact.

Konashenkov's statement said the attack was a "gross violation" of a US-Russian memorandum aimed at avoiding clashes over Syria.

Moscow announced earlier it was halting the deal reached in 2015 in response to the strike, despite Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirming the US side had warned Russia of the impending attack through the channels it had established. 

Trump ordered the strike - Washington's first direct military action against President Bashar Assad's government - in response to what he called a "barbaric" chemical attack this week that he blamed on Damascus.  

Moscow has been flying a bombing campaign in support of Syrian  forces since September 2015 and has sought to deflect blame from its ally over the alleged chemical attack.

Assad office says US strike 'foolish, irresponsible'

A US missile strike on an airbase in central Syria early on Friday was "foolish and irresponsible," President Bashar al-Assad's office said.

"What America did is nothing but foolish and irresponsible behaviour, which only reveals its short-sightedness and political and military blindness to reality."

"This aggression has increased Syria's resolve to hit those terrorist agents, to continue to crush them, and to raise the pace of action to that end wherever they area," a statement from the presidency said.

He denied that his government had carried out a chemical attack this week and said that Washington was "naively pulled behind a false propaganda campaign".



Iran Foreign Minister: US fighting on same side as al-Qaeda and IS

Sarin gas survivor describes US airstrike as 'game-changer'

Kassem Eid, who survived the sarin gas attack on Ghouta in 2013, said he felt like the US move was a "game changer."
 
Speaking from his home in Germany where he now lives, he told Middle East Eye that: "This might be the beginning of a new era, this might be actually a real chance for peace in Syria,"
 
"I was very happy, overwhelmed," he said. "We’ve been waiting for this for a long time, we have been waiting to see Assad held accountable for more than six years and this was the first time we’ve seen any punishment."
 
Read more of Kassem's reaction here....
 


 
 

Frederic C Hoff: Assad's free ride for mass murder may be over

Frederic C Hof, previously the special coordinator for regional affairs in the US State Department's Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, has written that the US strikes in Syria could finally put a break on Assad's war in the country:


"If the battle against violent extremism is serious, the United States should be prepared to obstruct, complicate, and frustrate Assad’s free ride for mass homicide. Ideally, Russia will cooperate in getting its client out of this bloody business.

"Whether it does or not, however, the Trump administration must act on what it already knows: that Bashar al-Assad’s political survival strategy of collective punishment and mass homicide is a gift that keeps on giving to ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other forms of violent, terrorist extremism.

"If the strikes of 6 April 2017 end the Assad crime wave against Syrian civilians, good. If they do not, further action will be essential. “Never again” must not become “Well, maybe just this once.” Civilian protection aside, resisting mass murder in Syria - irrespective of the murder weapon - is an essential tool in countering and defeating violent extremism."


Hof in 2015 wrote of his regret about his time in office and how he badly miscalculated the situation in Syria.

More images of airbase from Syrian state television







Syrians react to US air strikes with optimism and despondence

Syrians living inside Syria have reacted to news of American airstrikes against Bashar al-Assad's forces with optimism and despair. 

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Mohammad Shbeeb, originally from Aleppo, and now living as a displaced person in Idlib said:

“If the strikes don’t take down the regime and don’t prevent Assad from ruling in Syria, it means nothing.”

Years of inaction by the international community, despite increasing Syrian government brutality, has left Syrians jaded, Shbeeb said.

Read more here of what other Syrians think about US air strikes in Syria...



People cross the street in Damascus on Friday, 7 April (Reuters)

Russian drone footage shows aftermath of US bombing of Syria base

US Syria strikes show necessary 'resolve' after attack: EU's Tusk

The US missile strikes on a Syrian airbase early on Friday demonstrated "needed resolve" against chemical attacks, EU President Donald Tusk said.

"US strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks," tweeted Tusk, who represents the 28 EU member states, adding that the bloc will work with the US to "end brutality" in Syria. 

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, the EU executive, expressed his support for the US decision.

"President Juncker has been unequivocal in his condemnation of the use of chemical weapons," a commission statement said. 

"The repeated use of such weapons must be answered. He understands efforts to deter further attacks," it said. 

Juncker made "a clear distinction" between US missile strikes on a military base and the use of "chemical weapons against civilians".

He also urged diplomatic efforts to end the six-year war in Syria "be redoubled" as only a "political transition" can achieve lasting peace.



Syrian State TV: US Strike killed nine civilians

Syrian state TV has confirmed that nine civilians, including four children, were killed from this morning's US air strike on a government airbase, AFP reported. 

The Russian ministry of defence has also confirmed that 23 out of the 59 Tomahawk missiles fired by the US hit the Syrian airfield and that the runway remains undamaged.

 

 

Analyst: Apparent sudden change in policy should 'scare' us

Ryan Evans, editor-in-chief of the War On The Rocks foreign policy analysis site has warned in a new article that Trump's latest action proves how risky and unpredictable he could be:


"We have heard repeatedly that Trump was a realist and was not interested in foreign intervention. Just days ago, senior members of the administration seemed to accept that Assad was here to stay. Yet, after this week’s chemical weapons attack, Trump was apoplectic and said there would be a response. And there was. While the chemical attack was undeniably horrific, Assad has been killing civilians with bullets and bombs for years in far greater numbers. To be direct, it scares me how quickly and casually Trump changed a longstanding policy preference on a major issue — especially one that involves death and destruction — and for reasons that are, to put it lightly, unclear. I worry what that portends for decisions on war and peace over the next four or eight years."