Syr­i­ans claim airstrike ‘fail­ure’

Nelson Mail - - WORLD -

SYRIA/US: Hun­dreds of Syr­i­ans poured into the streets of Da­m­as­cus yes­ter­day, danc­ing and chant­ing in de­fi­ance of what they called the West’s ‘‘fail­ure’’ to shake their nation’s re­solve with airstrikes that jolted the cap­i­tal only hours ear­lier.

The demon­stra­tions in sup­port of Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad were car­ried live on state tele­vi­sion, which also re­ported that Syr­ian air de­fences had in­ter­cepted most of the mis­siles fired by the United States, Bri­tain and France to pun­ish Syria’s pur­ported use of chem­i­cal weapons. The broad­caster also urged people not to be­lieve me­dia re­ports that ex­ag­ger­ated the re­sults of the airstrikes.

‘‘We are not scared of Amer­ica’s mis­siles. We hu­mil­i­ated their mis­siles,’’ said Mah­moud Ibrahim, who waved a Syr­ian flag as he hung out of his car win­dow.

As car horns blared, the crowd moved to­wards nearby Da­m­as­cus Univer­sity where pro-gov­ern­ment fight­ers danced and waved their au­to­matic ri­fles over their heads. Many de­nounced US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and also waved flags of Syria’s al­lies, Iran and Rus­sia, as they cheered As­sad.

The dis­play of na­tional fer­vour later mixed with cel­e­bra­tions over the news that the Syr­ian army de­clared the east­ern sub­urbs of Da­m­as­cus ‘‘fully lib­er­ated’’ af­ter the last group of rebels left the town of Douma. Its re­cap­ture marks the big­gest vic­tory for As­sad’s forces since the cap­ture of the east­ern half of the city of Aleppo in 2016.

The fall of Douma came af­ter a pun­ish­ing gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive and a sur­ren­der deal struck with rebel groups. It also fol­lowed the pur­ported use of chem­i­cal weapons there on April 7, which ac­tivists say killed over 40 people in the town and led to Satur­day’s airstrikes by the West.

‘‘Trump failed in his ag­gres­sion,’’ said 51-year-old civil ser­vant Mo­hammed Ham­mad. ‘‘Trump’s fail­ure came with the vic­tory of our army in Douma, which marks the big­gest vic­tory for the Syr­ian Arab Army.’’

The bom­bard­ment be­gan in the early morn­ing (local time) with loud ex­plo­sions thun­der­ing in Da­m­as­cus and the sky turn­ing orange as fires raged in the dis- tance. The call to morn­ing pray­ers at dawn mixed with the whoosh of mis­siles. Shortly af­ter the one­hour at­tack ended, ve­hi­cles with loud­speak­ers blared na­tion­al­ist songs. ‘‘Good souls will not be hu­mil­i­ated,’’ Syria’s pres­i­den­tial ac­count tweeted af­ter the airstrikes be­gan.

Later, a video show­ing As­sad walk­ing into his of­fice car­ry­ing a brief­case was posted on the same ac­count. ‘‘Good morn­ing, stead­fast­ness,’’ the cap­tion read.

As the sun rose, hun­dreds had gath­ered in Da­m­as­cus’ land­mark Omayyad Square, cel­e­brat­ing what they said was the army’s suc­cess in foil­ing the US-led mil­i­tary ac­tion.

The widely broad­cast cel­e­bra­tions and the hastily or­gan­ised po­lice de­ploy­ment in Douma ap­peared to be the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the airstrikes.

The lim­ited airstrikes came at a time when the As­sad gov­ern­ment is feel­ing em­pow­ered af­ter hav­ing se­cured the re­gion near the cap­i­tal fol­low­ing other mil­i­tary vic­to­ries backed by Rus­sia and Iran in seven years of civil war.

Trump an­nounced the airstrikes on Satur­day to at­tack Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons pro­gramme. He said Wash­ing­ton is pre­pared to keep pres­sure on As­sad un­til he ends a ‘‘crim­i­nal pat­tern of killing his own people’’ with the in­ter­na­tion­ally banned weapons.

Yes­ter­day, Trump tweeted ‘‘Mis­sion Ac­com­plished,’’ and the Pen­tagon said the strikes hit the ‘‘heart’’ of Syria’s chem­i­cal pro­gramme.

The US had fired Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles at a Syr­ian air­field in April 2017 in re­tal­i­a­tion for As­sad’s use of sarin gas against civil­ians. Syria has re­peat­edly de­nied us­ing banned weapons. In­spec­tors from the in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog group had been ex­pected to head to Douma yes­ter­day.

The lim­ited strikes were de­plored by the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion, which saw the West as lack­ing an in­ter­na­tional strat­egy for deal­ing with the civil war.

Nasr al-Hariri, a se­nior op­po­si­tion leader, said the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity must take re­spon­si­bil­ity for any re­tal­i­a­tion by the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment against civil­ians in op­po­si­tion ar­eas. He called for a strat­egy that leads to a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to ‘‘save it from the bru­tal­ity of the Syr­ian regime.’’

Mo­ham­mad Al­loush, spokesman for the Army of Is­lam rebel group that was ex­pelled from Douma, tweeted that the airstrikes were a ‘‘farce.’’

A Syr­ian mil­i­tary state­ment said 110 mis­siles were fired by the US, Bri­tain and France and that it shot down most of them. Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary said Syr­ian air de­fence units downed 71 of the mis­siles.

Marine Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Ken­neth F. McKen­zie, di­rec­tor of the Joint Staff at the Pen­tagon, said no mis­siles were stopped. He added that Syria’s air de­fences were in­ef­fec­tive and that many of the more than 40 sur­face-to-air mis­siles fired by the Syr­i­ans were launched af­ter the al­lied at­tack was over. He said the US knew of no civil­ians killed by al­lied mis­siles. The Syr­ian mil­i­tary said three civil­ians were wounded in one of the strikes in Homs.

A ‘‘num­ber of mis­siles’’ tar­geted a sci­en­tific re­search cen­tre in Barzeh, near Da­m­as­cus, and de­stroyed a build­ing hous­ing an ed­u­ca­tion cen­tre and lab­o­ra­to­ries and caused other dam­age, the mil­i­tary said.

An AP re­porter who went to the Cen­tre for Sci­en­tific Re­search on the north­east­ern edge of Da­m­as­cus found the three-storey build­ing al­most com­pletely de­stroyed and still smok­ing hours af­ter it was hit. An of­fi­cial there said the fa­cil­ity was used by the chem­i­cal and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­tries and helped de­velop cancer drugs.

Gen­eral Joseph Dun­ford, chair­man of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a chem­i­cal weapons stor­age fa­cil­ity west of Homs also was tar­geted and was be­lieved to be the main site of Syr­ian sarin pro­duc­tion equip­ment. A chem­i­cal weapons equip­ment stor­age fa­cil­ity and an im­por­tant com­mand post, west of Homs, also were tar­geted.

Rus­sia and Iran called the use of force a ‘‘mil­i­tary crime’’ and ‘‘act of ag­gres­sion.’’ The UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil met to de­bate the strikes, but re­jected a Rus­sian res­o­lu­tion call­ing for con­dem­na­tion of the ‘‘ag­gres­sion’’ by the three Western al­lies. – AP


Da­m­as­cus skies erupt with sur­face-to-air mis­sile fire as the US launches an at­tack tar­get­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the Syr­ian cap­i­tal Da­m­as­cus on Satur­day.

Syr­ian gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers chant slo­gans against US Pres­i­dent Trump dur­ing ral­lies fol­low­ing US, Bri­tish and French mil­i­tary strikes in Da­m­as­cus.

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