Al­lies say Syria strikes un­der­cut res­o­lu­tion

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY BASSEM MROUE AND SARAH EL DEEB As­so­ci­ated Press

Damascus, Syria – The lead­ers of Rus­sia, Iran and the Hezbol­lah group in Le­banon said Sun­day that Western airstrikes on their ally, Syria, have com­pli­cated prospects for a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment to the coun­try’s sev­enyear con­flict.

A day af­ter the U.S., Bri­tain and France bom­barded sites they said were linked to a chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram, Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad ap­peared briefly on state TV, seem­ingly un­fazed by the mil­i­tary ac­tion — and even re­port­edly in high spir­its.

As­sad told a group of vis­it­ing Rus­sian law­mak­ers that the strikes were ac­com­pa­nied by a cam­paign of “lies and mis­in­for­ma­tion” against Syria and Rus­sia in the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Moscow and Damascus are wag­ing the same “bat­tles” against ter­ror­ism and “to pro­tect in­ter­na­tional law based on re­spect of the sovereignty of coun­tries and the wills of peo­ple,” As­sad said in com­ments car­ried by state me­dia, an ap­par­ent jab at the three Western al­lies.

Rus­sian law­maker Dmitry Sablin, who met with As­sad, said he ap­peared up­beat and be­lieved the airstrikes would unify the coun­try.

Rus­sia and Iran have called the ac­tion a “mil­i­tary crime” and “act of ag­gres­sion.” The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil re­jected a Rus­sian res­o­lu­tion call­ing for con­dem­na­tion of the “ag­gres­sion” by the U.S., France and Bri­tain.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump on Sun­day in­formed Congress in

writ­ing of his de­ci­sion to or­der a U.S. missile strike against Syria.

Un­der the War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion, the pres­i­dent must keep Congress in­formed of such ac­tions.

Trump’s let­ter to con­gres­sional lead­ers cites the ra­tio­nale he gave pub­licly Fri­day night in re­sponse to an al­leged poi­son gas attack on Syr­ian rebels near Damascus the pre­vi­ous week. He writes that the tar­gets were Syr­ian mil­i­tary chem­i­cal weapons-re­lated fa­cil­i­ties.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, and they agreed the Western airstrikes were an “il­le­gal ac­tion ... ad­versely im­pact­ing prospects for po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment in Syria,” a Krem­lin state­ment said.

Putin said the ac­tions vi­o­lated the U.N. Char­ter and if they con­tinue, “it will in­evitably en­tail chaos in in­ter­na­tional relations,” the state­ment said.

The of­fi­cial IRNA news agency quoted Rouhani as say­ing The U.S. and “some Western coun­tries do not want Syria to reach per­ma­nent sta­bil­ity.”

Iran and Rus­sia should not al­low the “fire of a new ten­sion” to flare up in the re­gion, Rouhani said, adding that the airstrikes were an “in­va­sion” aimed at “em­bold­en­ing de­feated ter­ror­ists,” IRNA re­ported.

Has­san Nas­ral­lah, the leader of Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah group that has hun­dreds of fight­ers back­ing As­sad’s forces, said the airstrikes failed to “ter­ror­ize or break the spir­its” of Syria and its al­lies.

In­stead, he said, the attack bol­stered the con­fi­dence of the Syr­ian army and its al­lies, as well as prob­a­bly sink­ing the al­ready-fal­ter­ing U.N.-backed peace process on Syria in Geneva.

“If the goal was to pres­sure Syria to ex­pe­dite a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion, I think what hap­pened will com­pli­cate the po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion and will strain in­ter­na­tional relations and the Geneva track, if not tor­pedo Geneva al­to­gether,” Nas­ral­lah told an elec­tion rally in Le­banon.

Nas­ral­lah said there is no chem­i­cal pro­gram in Syria, and he likened the at­tacks in Syria to the West’s con­cern over Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram.

U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Ken­neth F. McKen­zie, di­rec­tor of the Joint Staff at the Pen­tagon, said the al­lied airstrikes “took out the heart” of As­sad’s chem­i­cal weapons ar­se­nal. When pressed, how­ever, he ac­knowl­edged that some un­spec­i­fied por­tion of As­sad’s chem­i­cal arms in­fra­struc­ture was not tar­geted.

As­sad de­nies he has used chem­i­cal weapons, and the U.S. has yet to present ev­i­dence of what it says led to the al­lied ac­tion: a chlo­rine gas attack on civil­ians in Douma on April 7 that killed more than 40 peo­ple. The U.S. says it sus­pects that sarin gas also was used.

A team from the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons is in Syria to in­ves­ti­gate the Douma in­ci­dent and was ex­pected to visit the town. Syr­ian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Faisal Mik­dad met with mem­bers of the watch­dog group in their Damascus ho­tel Sun­day.

The gov­ern­ment re­gained full con­trol of Douma on Satur­day fol­low­ing a sur­ren­der deal with the rebels in the town east of Damascus. It later de­ployed an­other 5,000 se­cu­rity forces there.

Rus­sian mil­i­tary po­lice had been de­ployed in Douma, rais­ing com­plaints from the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion that ev­i­dence of chem­i­cal weapons use might no longer be found.

Douma was the last rebel hold­out in the east­ern Ghouta sub­urbs, the tar­get of a gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive in Fe­bru­ary and March that killed hun­dreds and dis­placed tens of thou­sands.

France, mean­while, has reached out to Rus­sia, urg­ing it to join re­newed peace ef­forts.

In an in­ter­view pub­lished Sun­day in the Jour­nal du Di­manche news­pa­per, French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Yves Le Drian said Moscow “should join our ef­forts to pro­mote a po­lit­i­cal process in Syria that would al­low a way out of the cri­sis.”

In a tele­vised in­ter­view Sun­day night, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said the U.S., France and Bri­tain had “full in­ter­na­tional le­git­i­macy to in­ter­vene” be­cause the airstrikes were en­forc­ing in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian law.

“It was re­tal­i­a­tion, not an act of war,” Macron said on French TV chan­nel BMF and on­line in­ves­tiga­tive site Me­di­a­part. He said the al­lies acted with­out a U.N. man­date be­cause of the “con­stant stale­mate of the Rus­sians” in the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Macron also of­fered to play the role of in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween the United States and Rus­sia.

“Ten days ago Pres­i­dent Trump wanted the United States of Amer­ica to with­draw from Syria. We con­vinced him to re­main,” he said.

France and the U.S. say the Geneva process is the only track to pur­sue a po­lit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion. Rus­sia has pur­sued a sep­a­rate track for po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions, host­ing talks in Sochi.

Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son told the BBC he hopes there is no need for more strikes in Syria, but that Bri­tain and its al­lies will con­sider fur­ther ac­tion if As­sad uses chem­i­cal weapons again.

In Ger­many, For­eign Min­is­ter Heiko Maas told pub­lic broad­caster ARD that he hopes the air strikes will re­sult in a fresh ef­fort to find a peace­ful so­lu­tion to the seven-year con­flict.

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