Syria dismisses impact of US-led strikes, says violation of international law

Syrian supporters of President Bashar al-Assad (portrait) gather in the northern city of Aleppo on April 9, 2018, to show support for the regime's operation to retake the totality of the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta.
Syrian supporters of President Bashar al-Assad (portrait) gather in the northern city of Aleppo on April 9, 2018, to show support for the regime's operation to retake the totality of the rebel-held area of Eastern Ghouta. PHOTO: AFP

BEIRUT (BLOOMBERG, AFP, REUTERS) - Syria said on Saturday (April 14) that US-led a missile strikes on military targets and research facilities have failed to achieve their goal, condemning them as a flagrant breach of international law.

The Syrian presidency posted a video that appeared to show President Bashar al-Assad arriving for work hours after the US-led strike.

“The morning of resilience,” declared a caption accompanying the video circulated on the presidency’s Telegram feed, which showed Mr Assad in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase as he walked into the marble-floored entrance of a building.

Mr Assad did not speak during the video, which lasted 8 seconds.

Syrian air defences responded to the attack by the US, France and the UK and hit several incoming missiles, state-run Syrian media said. 

Three civilians were wounded, according to the official SANA news agency.

Naval and air forces from the three countries hit three primary targets, including a chemical weapons research facility outside Damascus and a weapons storage facility near Homs, General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters. 

The strikes were in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

“The aggression by the arrogant and hegemonic Western regimes was a result of their frustration at the failure of the conspiratorial project against Syria,” the state-run SANA news agency said, citing an unnamed Foreign Ministry official. 

It called the attack a flagrant violation of international law.

With nationalist music blaring in the background, small groups of residents gathered on the streets in several locations in Damascus, waving the Syrian flag as well as the flags of Iran and Russia, which have supported Mr Assad in the seven-year-old civil war.

Syria’s allies, including Iran and Lebanon’s Hizbollah group, strongly condemned the attack but did not threaten any retaliation. 
Analysts and diplomats said the strikes were unlikely to change the trajectory of the conflict.

“Arrogant Trump wanted to vent to prove he’s a man,” Damascus resident Issam Dahi, who sells car parts, said by telephone. “This will have no impact on a government that has survived a war that lasted more than seven years.” 

Syrian forces vacated key military airports and positions in recent days and have been on high alert after US President Donald Trump warned his country would respond to the suspected chemical attack last weekend.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syrian war through activists on the ground, said the strikes had also targeted positions of elite Republican Guard forces.

Mr Sharif Shehadeh, a former Syrian lawmaker, said by telephone from Damascus that the attack was a victory for Syria. 
“Instead of weakening the government, it only made it stronger,” he said. “Trump did it to save face.” 

The Foreign Ministry early on Saturday said the strikes aimed to block a probe by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global watchdog.

“The timing of the aggression coincides with the arrival of OPCW mission to Syria to investigate the alleged chemical attack in Douma, and mainly aims at hindering the mission’s work and preempting its results,” it said in comments carried by state news agency SANA.

The ministry said it was an “attempt to block the exposure of their lies and fabrications”.

US, British and French forces pounded Syria with strikes early on Saturday after a suspected gas attack killed dozens of people last week, in the biggest intervention by Western powers against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

 
 
 
 
 

Syrian state television said government air defence systems were responding to “the American aggression” and aired video of missiles being fired into a dark night sky.

It was not clear if they hit anything. It reported that 13 missiles had been shot down by Syrian air defences near Al-Kiswa, a town south of Damascus.

The US-led attack on Syria will be seen as limited if it is now over and there is no second round of strikes, said a senior official in the regional alliance that has supported President Assad in the Syrian war.

“If it is finished, and there is no second round, it will be considered limited,” the official told Reuters.

The official said the Syrian government and its allies have "absorbed" the US-led attack and the targeted sites were evacuated days ago thanks to a warning from Russia.

“We have absorbed the strike," the official told Reuters.

“We had an early warning of the strike from the Russians ... and all military bases were evacuated a few days ago,” the official said. 

State media published images of a cloud of reddish smoke hanging over the capital.

But it said skies were clear over Aleppo in the north, Hasakeh in the north-east, and Latakia and Tartus along the western coast, where key Syrian and Russian military installations are located.

Syrian state TV said the attack was being confronted by the pro-Damascus “anti-terror axis”, a phrase suggesting that Mr Assad’s foreign allies, Iran and Russia, may be helping to defend Syria.

Syrian opposition leader Nasra al-Hariri called on Saturday for an end to what he described as all attacks against civilians by the Syrian state and its allies, whether using chemical or conventional weapons.

“Maybe the regime will not use chemical weapons again, but it will not hesitate to use weapons the international community has allowed it, such as barrel bombs and cluster bombs,” Hariri, head of the main Syrian opposition bloc, said in a tweet.