Syr­ian town hit in gas at­tack bombed again

No chem­i­cals re­ported, but woman killed de­spite U.S. mis­siles

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Louisa Loveluck and Zakaria Zakaria

BEIRUT — Res­i­dents of the Syr­ian town dev­as­tated by a chem­i­cal weapons at­tack Tuesday said war­planes had re­turned to bomb them Satur­day, de­spite a U.S. mis­sile bar­rage and warn­ings of pos­si­ble fur­ther re­sponse.

At least 87 peo­ple in the north­west­ern town of Khan Sheikhoun were killed Tuesday in a chem­i­cal at­tack that left hun­dreds chok­ing or foam­ing at the mouth. Wit­nesses and a mon­i­tor­ing group, the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights, said Satur­day that fresh at­tacks on the area — now a vir­tual ghost town — had killed one woman and wounded sev­eral oth­ers.

Res­i­dents cow­ered in bed­rooms and base­ments Satur­day, un­der­scor­ing the ap­par­ently un­changed threat they faced from the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment’s arse­nal of rock­ets, bar­rel bombs and other weapons.

In re­tal­i­a­tion for Tuesday’s chem­i­cal as­sault, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump or­dered a mis­sile strike on a Syr­ian air­field hous­ing a jet fleet re­spon­si­ble for ex­ten­sive bomb­ing across north­ern Syria.

Trump on Satur­day praised the U.S. mil­i­tary for car­ry­ing out the mis­sile at­tack and struck back at mount­ing ques­tions over whether it would help achieve a mo­men­tum shift in Syria’s civil war.

In an af­ter­noon tweet, Trump de­fended the op­er­a­tion against crit­i­cism from some mem­bers of Congress and mil­i­tary an­a­lysts that the night­time vol­ley of 59 Tom­a­hawk cruise mis­siles did not tar­get the run­ways at the Shayrat air base.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have said the at­tack suc­cess­fully de­stroyed re­fu­el­ing sta­tions, hangars and some planes.

“The rea­son you don’t gen­er­ally hit run­ways is that they are easy and in­ex­pen­sive to quickly fix (fill in and top)!” Trump wrote on Twit­ter from Mar-a-Lago in Florida.

Thurs­day’s mis­sile bar­rage was the first di­rect mil­i­tary ac­tion the U.S. has taken against Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s gov­ern­ment in the six-year-long con­flict. Al­though Trump warned of pos­si­ble fur­ther in­ter­ven­tion, the Pen­tagon has said no other strikes against gov­ern­ment tar­gets are planned.

Mon­i­tor­ing groups re­ported Satur­day that jets were tak­ing off from the bombed Shayrat air base, this time to at­tack Is­lamic State po­si­tions.

There were also re­ports of Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and Rus­sian airstrikes across the prov­inces of Da­m­as­cus, Aleppo, Idlib and Daraa, all killing civil­ians. How­ever, there were no re­ports of fur­ther use of chem­i­cal weapons.

“The Amer­i­can strikes did noth­ing for us. They can still com­mit mas­sacres at any time,” said Ma­jed Khat­tab, speak­ing by phone from Khan Sheikhoun. “Peo­ple are re­ally afraid.”

Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu de­scribed Trump’s de­ci­sion to re­tal­i­ate as wel­come, but not enough.

“If this in­ter­ven­tion is lim­ited only to an air base, if it does not con­tinue and if we don’t re­move the regime from head­ing Syria, then this would re­main a cos­metic in­ter­ven­tion,” he said.

A long­time backer of Syria’s armed op­po­si­tion, Turkey is now over­see­ing a stut­ter­ing peace process in the Kazakh cap­i­tal, As­tana.

Else­where in the re­gion, a lead­ing Iraqi Shi­ite cleric and mili­tia leader, Mo­q­tada al-Sadr, called on As­sad to step down and “save Syria be­fore it’s too late.”

In a sign of the con­tin­u­ing di­plo­matic fall­out from the chem­i­cal at­tack and the U.S. re­sponse, Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son an­nounced Satur­day that he had can­celed a planned visit to Moscow.

John­son was to fly to Moscow on Mon­day to meet his Rus­sian coun­ter­part, Sergey Lavrov, in what would have been the first such meet­ing since 2012. But John­son said in a state­ment that “de­vel­op­ments in Syria have changed the sit­u­a­tion fun­da­men­tally.”

Bri­tain has been sup­port­ive of last week’s U.S. airstrike but has said it has no plans to join in any fu­ture at­tacks on Syr­ian gov­ern­ment tar­gets.

Mean­while, Rus­sia and Iran, As­sad’s most in­flu­en­tial sup­port­ers, ral­lied around him. Rus­sia con­demned the U.S. mis­sile strike and sus­pended an agree­ment that would min­i­mize the risk of in-flight in­ci­dents be­tween Rus­sian and U.S. mil­i­tary air­craft over Syria.

And on Satur­day, Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, in a state­ment car­ried by state tele­vi­sion, called for the for­ma­tion of an in­ter­na­tional fact-find­ing com­mit­tee that “must not be headed by Amer­i­cans.”

Also Satur­day, dpa re­ported that at least 15 civil­ians were killed in strikes by U.S.-led coali­tion war­planes on a strong­hold of the Is­lamic State in Syria, ac­cord­ing to the Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights. The planes tar­geted a vil­lage on the out­skirts of Raqqa, the de facto cap­i­tal of Is­lamic State, the mon­i­tor­ing group said, ac­cord­ing to dpa.

MOHAMAD ABAZEED/GETTY-AFP

A rebel-held area in the Syr­ian city of Daraa was re­port­edly hit by an airstrike Satur­day.

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