Gas attack survivors hail US strike

KHAN SHEIKHOUN (Syria) • In the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, site of a poison gas attack this week, residents mourning their dead welcomed US strikes as a way to pressure Damascus.

"God bless Trump," said Mr Abu Ali, in his 40s, hours after the United States launched a barrage of cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase in the central Homs province in what US President Donald Trump said was a retaliation for the gas attack.

"God willing, these strikes will be a clear warning to (President) Bashar al-Assad, to tell him, 'Bashar, enough killing and injustice against these people'," he told Agence France-Presse.

The Syrian government denies any role in the gas attack.

Syria and its allies Russia and Iran condemned yesterday's US military strike, saying the attack was foolish and premised on false information.

"What America did is nothing but foolish and irresponsible behaviour, which only reveals its short-sightedness and political and military blindness to reality," Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's office said in a statement. His office said the government would redouble its efforts against rebel groups after the US strike.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the strike was based on "bogus" chemical weapons allegations. Washington "resorts to military force over bogus CW (chemical weapons) allegations, first in 2003, and now in Syria," he tweeted. He was comparing the strike to the US-led invasion of Iraq, which was premised on allegations that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction, which later turned out to be unfounded.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also compared the attack to the US invasion of Iraq. "This is reminiscent of the 2003 situation, when the United States and the United Kingdom, along with their allies, invaded Iraq without the UN Security Council's consent."

Yesterday, as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Mr Trump met in Florida, China said it opposed the use of force in Syria. "We advocate resolving disputes peacefully," CNN quoted the spokesman as saying.

But the strike was praised by Israel and Saudi Arabia, two crucial allies of the United States in the Middle East. In a statement carried by state news agency SPA, a Saudi official called the strike a "courageous decision".

In a joint statement, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Francois Hollande of France said that Mr Assad "bears sole responsibility".

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed for restraint among the parties.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline 'Gas attack survivors hail US strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe