US air strikes ‘backfire’
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’.