US air strikes ‘back­fire’

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HUN­DREDS gath­ered at land­mark squares in Da­m­as­cus yes­ter­day, sound­ing car hoot­ers, flash­ing vic­tory signs and wav­ing Syr­ian flags in scenes of de­fi­ance after un­prece­dented joint air strikes by the US, France and Bri­tain.

A few hours ear­lier, be­fore sun­rise, loud ex­plo­sions jolted Da­m­as­cus and the sky turned or­ange as Syr­ian air de­fence units fired sur­face-to-air mis­siles in re­sponse to three waves of mil­i­tary strikes meant to pun­ish Pres­i­dent Bashar al-as­sad for his al­leged use of chem­i­cal weapons.

Shortly after the one-hour at­tack ended, ve­hi­cles with loud­speak­ers roamed the streets blar­ing na­tion­al­ist songs. “Good souls will not be hu­mil­i­ated,” Syria’s pres­i­dency tweeted after the airstrikes be­gan.

Im­me­di­ately after the at­tack, hun­dreds of res­i­dents gath­ered in Da­m­as­cus’ land­mark Omayyad square, cel­e­brat­ing what they said was the army’s suc­cess in shoot­ing down or de­rail­ing some of the mis­siles.

Many waved Syr­ian, Rus­sian and Ira­nian flags. Some clapped their hands and danced, oth­ers drove in con­voys, hoot­ing in de­fi­ance.

“We are not scared of Amer­ica’s mis­siles. We hu­mil­i­ated their mis­siles,” said Mah­moud Ibrahim.

The crowd then moved to­wards the nearby Da­m­as­cus Uni­ver­sity where pro-gov­ern­ment fight­ers danced, wav­ing their au­to­matic ri­fles over their heads.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced on Fri­day night that the three al­lies had launched mil­i­tary strikes to pun­ish As­sad for al­leged chem­i­cal weapons use and to pre­vent him do­ing it again.

Trump said Wash­ing­ton was pre­pared to “sus­tain” pres­sure on As­sad un­til he ended what he called a crim­i­nal pat­tern of killing his own peo­ple with in­ter­na­tion­ally banned chem­i­cal weapons.

The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment has re­peat­edly de­nied any use of banned weapons. A fact-find­ing team of in­spec­tors from the in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog was in Da­m­as­cus and had been ex­pected to head to the town of Douma yes­ter­day, the scene of the sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack that killed more than 40 peo­ple.

The seem­ingly lim­ited strikes was a cause for re­lief and cel­e­bra­tion by As­sad sup­port­ers but crit­i­cised by the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion. Mo­ham­mad Al­loush, spokesper­son for the Army of Is­lam rebel group, called the strikes a “farce” in a Twit­ter post­ing. Nasr al-hariri, a se­nior op­po­si­tion leader, said Syr­i­ans need a strat­egy that leads to a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to “save it from the bru­tal­ity of the Syr­ian regime”.

Al-hariri, in a tweet, sug­gested the strikes sent the wrong mes­sage that while it was not okay to use chem­i­cal weapons, the gov­ern­ment can con­tinue to “use ex­plo­sive bar­rels and clus­ter bombs”.

A Syr­ian mil­i­tary state­ment said A map of the ar­eas tar­geted by US, French and Bri­tish forces on Fri­day, in re­sponse to a sus­pected chem­i­cal at­tack in the rebel-held sub­urb of Douma, east of Da­m­as­cus. in all, 110 mis­siles were fired by the US, Bri­tain and France and that most were shot down or de­railed. Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary said Syr­ian air de­fence units downed 71 of 103 cruise mis­siles launched by the US and its al­lies.

The Syr­ian state­ment read by Bri­gadier Gen­eral Ali May­houb said three civil­ians were wounded in one of the strikes on a mil­i­tary base in Homs, al­though the at­tack was aborted by de­rail­ing the in­com­ing mis­sile.

He said an­other at­tack with “a num­ber of mis­siles” tar­get­ing a sci­en­tific re­search cen­tre in Barzeh, near Da­m­as­cus, de­stroyed a build­ing and caused other ma­te­rial dam­age but no hu­man losses. The at­tack be­gan at 4am with mis­siles hit­ting the eastern sub­urbs of Da­m­as­cus, shak­ing the ground.

Syr­ian TV called the at­tacks a “bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law and shows con­tempt for in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy”.

US De­fence Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis said there were no re­ports of Amer­i­can losses dur­ing the ini­tial airstrikes. “Right now this is a one­time shot,” he said but did not rule out fur­ther at­tacks. He said the airstrikes were launched against sev­eral sites that helped pro­vide As­sad’s abil­ity to cre­ate chem­i­cal weapons.

France’s for­eign min­is­ter said the “chem­i­cal es­ca­la­tion” in Syria was not ac­cept­able be­cause it vi­o­lated the rules of war and of hu­man­ity. Jean-yves Le Drian told re­porters yes­ter­day that the joint mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in Syria was le­git­i­mate, lim­ited and pro­por­tion­ate.

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 does ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to pre­vent civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

The de­ci­sion to strike, 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.

Iran’s supreme leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei said the at­tack on Syria was a “crime” and de­clared the lead­ers of the US, France and the UK “crim­i­nals,” ac­cord­ing to Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.

Rus­sia’s US em­bassy re­leased a state­ment warn­ing the air strikes will “not be with­out con­se­quences”. – Ap/african News Agency/ana

So­cial re­former re­mem­bered

Mem­bers of var­i­ous or­gan­i­sa­tions of­fer flow­ers on the 127th an­niver­sary of the Bhim­rao Ramji Ambed­kar statue in Bangalore,

In­dia, yes­ter­day. In­dia’s first law min­is­ter, so­cial re­former and chair­per­son of the con­sti­tu­tion draft­ing com­mit­tee, BR Ambed­kar drafted the na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tion and cam­paigned against the dis­crim­i­na­tion of Dal­its, caste dis­crim­i­na­tion and ‘un­touch­a­bil­ity’.

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