US allies defend strikes against Syria

Overnight strikes were carried out on Damascus by the United States, Britain and France. Arab states, generally hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran, backed the Western action, including both Saudi Arabia and its rival Qatar.
Overnight strikes were carried out on Damascus by the United States, Britain and France. Arab states, generally hostile to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iran, backed the Western action, including both Saudi Arabia and its rival Qatar. PHOTO: REUTERS

Britain, France stress moral obligation to act; Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar express support

WASHINGTON • The United States, Britain and France have sought to shore up international support after overnight strikes on Syria in retaliation for an apparent chemical weapons attack by Mr Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The military action was carried out without a mandate from the United Nations and in the face of criticism from Mr Assad's allies Russia and Iran.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the Nato powers had no alternative but to act after reports that a Syrian government helicopter dropped a barrel bomb with chemical agents on a civilian population near Damascus a week ago.

"We would have preferred an alternative path, but in this case there was none," Mrs May told reporters in London yesterday morning.

"We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised."

French President Emmanuel Macron said the action was narrowly focused on Syria's chemical weapons facilities while Mrs May insisted there was no intention to interfere in the broader civil war that has engulfed the country since 2011.

STRONG DETERRENT

The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP



CONDEMNATION

Russia in the most serious way condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military servicemen help the legitimate government to fight terrorism.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN

All three leaders, including US President Donald Trump, said the use of chemical agents gave them a moral obligation to act.

Turkey, a Nato member with forces in northern Syria fighting Kurdish militants, welcomed the strikes and described them as a proper action against the Assad regime.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party in Istanbul he had a "sleepless night" as he monitored all the developments.

"It is not possible for us to approve the situation encountered by (Syrian) babies as a result of the use of chemical weapons," he said.

"Whoever the perpetrators, they should pay a price."

The Turkish leader told Mrs May his country has "clearly condemned" the use of chemical weapons since the very beginning, in a call with the British PM, a Turkish presidential source said.

He said the only way to long-lasting peace in Syria was a "political solution", the source added. The Turkish leader also emphasised the importance of de-escalating the tension in the region.

Israel Housing Minister Yoav Galant said on his Twitter page: "The American attack is an important signal to the axis of evil - Iran, Syria and Hizbollah - a signal that says the use of chemical weapons crosses the red line against humanity and will not be tolerated."

Arab states, generally hostile to Mr Assad and Iran, backed the Western action, including both Saudi Arabia and its rival Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, which along with other Gulf states has been a key backer of Syrian opposition groups fighting Mr Assad, said that it "fully supports the strikes launched by the United States, France and Britain against Syria because they represent a response to the regime's crimes".

Qatar was the first Gulf country to react to the strikes, issuing a statement published by the official news agency to express support for strikes to stop attacks by the Syrian regime against civilians.

France's participation in the US-led military operation has sparked fierce debate at home. Mr Jean-Luc Melenchon, one of Mr Macron's old rivals in the presidential race last year, called the operation "a matter of North American revenge, an irresponsible escalation".

Mrs May also faced a backlash from the domestic opposition, with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn accusing her of following Mr Trump, hugely unpopular in Britain, into battle without waiting for the evidence.

"Bombs won't save lives or bring about peace," said Mr Corbyn, the veteran leftist leader of the main opposition Labour Party. "This legally questionable action risks escalating further... an already devastating conflict."

Stop the War, a pacifist coalition once chaired by Mr Corbyn, has called for a demonstration outside the British Parliament tomorrow to protest against the strikes.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 15, 2018, with the headline 'US allies defend strikes against Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe