As­sad blasts strikes

Al­lies say at­tack hurts po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Bassem Mroue and Sarah El Deeb

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 seven-year 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.

He 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.

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, add-

ing 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 al-

ready-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.” French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron was ex­pected to strike a sim­i­lar tone in a tele­vised in­ter­view later Sun­day.

France has con­tin­ued to talk reg­u­larly with Rus­sia even as East-West ten­sions have grown. Macron spoke with Putin on Fri­day, hours be­fore the Western mis­sile strikes.

France and the United States 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. He said the airstrikes were pro­por­tion­ate and showed “the world has said enough is enough.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this photo re­leased Satur­day by the Syr­ian of­fi­cial news agency SANA, people walk on a dam­aged street af­ter Syr­ian po­lice units en­tered the town of Douma, the site of a sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack and the last rebel-held town in the east­ern...

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this photo re­leased Satur­day by the Syr­ian of­fi­cial news agency SANA, Syr­ian men rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle wave their na­tional flag, af­ter Syr­ian po­lice units en­tered the town of Douma, the site of a sus­pected chem­i­cal weapons at­tack and the last...

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