DAMASCUS Loud explosions rocked Syria’s capital, Damascus, and filled the sky with heavy smoke after United States President Donald Trump announced air strikes in retaliation for the country’s use of chemical weapons.
Syrian air defences responded to the joint strikes yesterday by the US, Britain and France. Smoke rose from east Damascus, and a huge fire could be seen there.
Syrian television said the early-morning attacks targeted a scientific research centre in Barzeh, near Damascus, and an army depot near Homs.
Syrian media reported that air defences had hit 13 incoming rockets south of Damascus. After the attacks ceased, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of the city blaring nationalist songs.
‘‘Good souls will not be humiliated,’’ Syria’s presidency tweeted after the air strikes began.
Syrian state TV called the attacks a ‘‘blatant violation of international law and shows contempt for international legitimacy’’.
Trump announced yesterday that the three allies had launched the strikes to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack on Douma, near Damascus, last weekend, and to prevent him from doing it again.
Trump said Washington was prepared to ‘‘sustain’’ the pressure on Assad until he ended what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether he meant the military operation would extend beyond the initial missile strikes.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.
US Defence Secretary James Mattis said there were no reports of US losses during the initial air strikes. ‘‘Right now, this is a onetime shot,’’ he said, but did not rule out further attacks.
Mattis said the strikes were launched against several sites that had helped Assad’s ability to create chemical weapons.
Britain’s Defence Ministry said that while the effectiveness of the attacks was still being analysed, ‘‘initial indications are that the precision of the Storm Shadow weapons and meticulous target planning have resulted in a successful attack.’’.
British Prime Minister Theresa May described the attack as neither ‘‘about intervening in a civil war’’ nor ‘‘about regime change’’ but a limited and targeted strike that ‘‘does not further escalate tensions in the region’’ and did everything poss- ible to prevent civilian casualties.
‘‘We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion, there is none,’’ May said.
The decision to attack, after days of deliberations, marked Trump’s second order to attack Syria. He authorised a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.
Trump chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting ‘‘murderous dictators’’, and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.
Russia’s US embassy released a statement warning that the air strikes would ‘‘not be left without consequences’’. It said that ‘‘all responsibility’’ rested with Washington, London and Paris.
The allied operation comes a year after the US missile strike that Trump said was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other sites.
The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals. AP
Yesterday’s strikes appear to signal Trump’s willingness to draw the US more deeply into the Syrian conflict. The participation of British and French forces enables Trump to assert a wider international commitment against the use of chemical weapons, but the multipronged attack carries the risk of Russian retaliation.
In a nationwide address, Trump stressed that he had no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.
‘‘America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances,’’ he said. ‘‘As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home.’’
The US has about 2000 troops in eastern Syria as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-Islamic State fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. A USled coalition has been conducting air strikes in Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break the Isis grip on both Syria and Iraq. AP
A policeman tussles with a protester near Downing Street in London during a demonstration yesterday organised by the Stop the War Coalition against military intervention or bombing by Western allies in Syria. The US, Britain and France have launched air strikes in retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.
Missile fire lights up the night sky during the joint attack targeting several areas of Syria’s capital, Damascus.