Syria decries US missile attack on air base

A combination image released by the US Department of Defense which they say shows the impact crater associated with the April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack. The photo was released after the US cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. (DOD photo via Reuters)

Syria decried the US missile attack early Friday morning on a government-controlled air base where US officials say the Syrian military launched a deadly chemical attack earlier this week.

The attack was termed an “aggression” that led to “losses”. Rebels welcomed the US attack.

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Washington announced it launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at 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 missiles hit about 3.45am on Friday morning and targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, US officials said.

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 military official quoted on Syrian TV said an air base in central Syria was hit early Friday, causing material damage. Another statement, also attributed to an unnamed official, referred to “losses.” The officials did not elaborate.

Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, where the targeted air base is located, told The Associated Press by phone that most of the strikes appeared to target the province in central Syria. He also said the strikes were meant to “support the terrorists on the ground”.’ He told Al Arabiya TV that a fire raged for two hours in the base, until it was put out.

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

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

Israel’s prime minister welcomed the US 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”.

The bombing represents Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office. The Obama administration threatened to attack President Bashar Assad’s forces for previous chemical weapons attacks, but never followed through. Trump called on “all civilized nations” to join the US in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.

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 did not 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.

-The Bangkok Post