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Syria decries US ‘aggression’, says 5 people killed; Russia, Iran condemn attack

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria decried a U.S. missile attack early Friday morning on a government-controlled air base where U.S. officials say the Syrian military launched a deadly chemical attack earlier this week, calling it an “aggression” that led to “losses.” Rebels welcomed the U.S. attack.

About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria. The U.S. missiles hit at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning and targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, U.S. officials said.

The United States launched a military strike on Syrian government targets in retaliation for their chemical weapon attack on civilians earlier in the week, CNN is told. On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched 50 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

They were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, in retaliation for Tuesday’s deadly chemical attack that officials said used chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin.

A Syrian official tells The Associated Press that the U.S. missile attack killed three soldiers and two civilians.

Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, said seven others were wounded in the early Friday attack. He had earlier said a fire raged in the air base in Homs for over an hour following the barrage of missiles. Barazi said  the strikes were meant to “support the terrorists on the ground.”

A Syrian opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, welcomed the U.S. attack, saying it puts an end to an age of “impunity” and should be just the beginning.

Major Jamil al-Saleh, a U.S-backed rebel commander whose Hama district in the country’s center was struck by the suspected chemical weapons attack, said he hoped the U.S. attack on a government air base would be a “turning point” in the six-year war that has left more than 400,000 dead.

Israel’s prime minister welcomed the U.S. attack. Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday in a statement that “In both word and action” President Donald Trump “sent a strong and clear message” that “the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.”

Iran condemned the U.S. missile strike on Syria, saying the “unilateral action is dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law.”

That’s according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi. He made the comments in a report carried Friday by the semi-official ISNA news agency. He said the strike would “strengthen terrorists” and further add to “the complexity of the situation in Syria and the region.”

Iran is one of the biggest supporters of  Syrian leader Bashar Assad. Iran’s hard-line paramilitary Revolutionary Guard is deeply involved in the war. America’s Sunni Arab allies in the Gulf view Syria as a proxy conflict between it and Shiite power Iran.

In Moscow, the Kremlin said the U.S. strike on Syria is “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.”

And a senior Russian lawmaker says that U.S. strike on Syria likely has put an end to hopes for Russia-U.S. cooperation in Syria.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the Kremlin-controlled upper house of parliament, said on his Facebook page that the prospective U.S.-Russian anti-terror coalition has been “put to rest without even being born.”

Kosachev added that “it’s a pity,” suggesting that Trump had been pressured to act by the Pentagon.

He added that while “Russian cruise missiles strike the terrorists, U.S. missiles strike Syrian government forces who are spearheading the fight against the terrorists.”

The Saudi Foreign Ministry said the missile launch by Trump was the right response to “the crimes of this regime to its people in light of the failure of the international community to stop it.” Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia is a longtime opponent of Assad.

Assad’s government had been under mounting international pressure after the chemical attack in northern Syria, with even key ally Russia saying its support is not unconditional.

Turkey, meanwhile, said samples from victims of Tuesday’s attack, which killed more than 80 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, indicate they were exposed to sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent.

Syria rejected the accusations, and Moscow had warned against apportioning blame until an investigation has been carried out.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that “unconditional support is not possible in this current world.”

But he added that “it is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr. Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong.”

Russia has provided military support for the Syrian government since September 2015, turning the balance of power in Assad’s favor. Moscow has used its veto power at the Security Council on several occasions since the civil war began six years ago to prevent sanctions against Damascus.

Syria maintains it didn’t use chemical weapons, blaming opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals. Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun.

Trump had said the attack crossed “many, many lines,” and put the blame squarely on Assad’s forces. Speaking Thursday on Air Force One, Trump said the attack “shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen.”

 

At the United Nations, the U.S. had hoped for a vote Thursday evening on a Security Council resolution it drafted with Britain and France that would have condemned Syria’s suspected use of chemical weapons — but it was canceled because of differences among the 15 members.

Russia strongly objected to provisions in that draft and circulated its own text which diplomats said wasn’t acceptable to the three Western nations. The 10 elected council members then presented what they hoped would be a compromise text on Thursday that addressed a key Russian objection — spelling out Syrian government obligations to investigators.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said the canceled vote “opens a window of opportunity” to keep working to find a compromise. He said he was grateful for the draft submitted by the elected members “because it’s a clear attempt to find a common denominator” but he said it has to carefully studied in Moscow.

Safronkov stressed that a resolution “should not, cannot and will not pre-judge the outcome from (an) investigation.”

The chemical attack happened in Syria’s Idlib province about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Turkish border, and the Turkish government — a close ally of Syria’s rebels — set up a decontamination center at a border crossing in Hatay province, where the victims were treated initially.

Turkish officials said nearly 60 victims of the attack were brought to Turkey for treatment and three of them died.

Victims showed signs of nerve gas exposure, including suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils and involuntary defecation, the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders said. Paramedics used fire hoses to wash the chemicals from the bodies of victims.

Visuals from the scene were reminiscent of a 2013 nerve gas attack on the suburbs of Damascus that left hundreds dead.

In Turkey, Anadolu and the private DHA news agencies on Thursday quoted Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag as saying “it was determined after the autopsy that a chemical weapon was used.”

The Turkish Health Ministry said later that “according to the results of the first analysis, there were findings suggesting that the patients were exposed to chemical substance (sarin).”