Syria: Mis­siles shot down over Homs

Pre-dawn strikes tar­get air base

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

BEIRUT: Syr­ian state-run me­dia re­ported that the coun­try’s air de­fences con­fronted a new “ag­gres­sion,’’ shoot­ing down mis­siles over the cen­tral re­gion of Homs early yes­ter­day.

The re­ports did not say who car­ried out the pre-dawn strikes. The gov­ern­ment-run Syr­ian Cen­tral Me­dia said the mis­siles tar­geted the Shayrat air base in Homs.

Ear­lier this month, four Ira­nian mil­i­tary per­son­nel were killed in an airstrike on Syria’s T4 air base, also in Homs. Syria and its main al­lies Iran and Rus­sia blamed Is­rael for that at­tack. Is­rael did not con­firmed or deny mount­ing the raid.

The re­ports came just a few days af­ter the United States, Britain and France con­ducted airstrikes tar­get­ing al­leged chem­i­cal weapons fa­cil­i­ties in Syria, in re­tal­i­a­tion for a sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack that they blamed on the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment.

Ex­perts from the in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog are now in Da­m­as­cus and have been wait­ing to visit the site of the sus­pected chem­i­cal at­tack in the town of Douma, just east of Da­m­as­cus.

On Mon­day, Syr­ian and Rus­sian au­thor­i­ties pre­vented in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons from go­ing to the scene, the head of the OPCW said, block­ing in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to es­tab­lish what hap­pened and who was to blame.

The US and France say they have ev­i­dence that poi­son gas was used in the April 7 at­tack in Douma, killing at least 40 peo­ple, and that Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s mil­i­tary was be­hind it.

But they have made none of that ev­i­dence pub­lic, even af­ter they, along with Britain, car­ried out airstrikes on Satur­day, bomb­ing sites they said were linked to Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons pro­gram.

Syria and its ally Rus­sia deny any chem­i­cal at­tack took place, and Rus­sian of­fi­cials went even fur­ther, ac­cus­ing Britain of stag­ing a “fake’’ chem­i­cal at­tack. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May ac­cused the two coun­tries — whose forces now con­trol the town east of Da­m­as­cus — of try­ing to cover up ev­i­dence.

The lack of ac­cess to Douma has left unan­swered ques­tions about the at­tack. OPCW Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Ah­met Uzumcu said Syr­ian and Rus­sian of­fi­cials cited “pend­ing se­cu­rity is­sues’’ in keep­ing its in­spec­tors from reach­ing Douma.

“The team has not yet de­ployed to Douma,’’ Mr Uzumcu told an ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil meet­ing of the OPCW in The Hague on Mon­day.

In­stead, Syr­ian au­thor­i­ties of­fered them 22 peo­ple to in­ter­view as wit­nesses, he said, adding that he hoped “all nec­es­sary ar­range­ments will be made ... to al­low the team to de­ploy to Douma as soon as pos­si­ble.’’

Rus­sian mil­i­tary po­lice were ready to help pro­tect the OPCW ex­perts on their visit to Douma, said Maj Gen Yuri Yev­tushenko of the Rus­sian mil­i­tary’s Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Cen­ter in Syria. Igor Kir­illov, a Rus­sian chem­i­cal weapons pro­tec­tion ex­pert in The Hague, said the team is set to visit the site to­day.

Ear­lier on Mon­day, Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Ryabkov said the in­spec­tors could not go to the site be­cause they needed ap­proval from the UN Depart­ment for Safety and Se­cu­rity. He de­nied that Rus­sia was ham­per­ing the mis­sion and sug­gested the ap­proval was held up be­cause of the West­ern airstrikes.

How­ever, UN spokesman Stephane Du­jar­ric said the United Na­tions has “pro­vided the nec­es­sary clear­ances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not de­nied the team any re­quest for it to go to Douma.’’

Un­til Satur­day, Douma was the last rebel-held town near Da­m­as­cus, and the tar­get of a gov­ern­ment of­fen­sive in Fe­bru­ary and March that killed hun­dreds and dis­placed tens of thou­sands.

Hours af­ter the al­leged chem­i­cal at­tack, the rebel fac­tion that con­trolled the town, the Army of Is­lam, re­lented and was evac­u­ated along with thou­sands of res­i­dents.

The As­so­ci­ated Press, dur­ing a gov­ern­ment-or­gan­ised visit on Mon­day to Douma, spoke to sur­vivors and wit­nesses who de­scribed be­ing hit by gas. Sev­eral said a strange smell started spread­ing and peo­ple screamed, “It’s chlo­rine! It’s chlo­rine!’’

The AP vis­ited a two-room un­der­ground shel­ter where Khaled Mah­moud Nu­seir said 47 peo­ple were killed, in­clud­ing his preg­nant wife and two daugh­ters, 18-month-old Qa­mar and 2 1/2-year-old Nour. A strange smell lin­gered, nine days af­ter the at­tack.

Nu­seir and two other res­i­dents ac­cused the rebel Army of Is­lam of car­ry­ing out the at­tack.


A pi­geon keeper watches his birds fly from the roof of his home in the war-dam­aged Bab Dreib neigh­bour­hood of the old city in Homs, Syria, in this Jan­uary 16 photo.

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