'We are not scared of America's missiles' â" Syrians gather in defiance after US-led strikes
Sat., April 14, 2018
DAMASCUS, Syriaâ"Hundreds of Syrians gathered at landmark squares in the Syrian capital Saturday, honking their car horns, flashing victory signs and waving Syrian flags in scenes of defiance that followed unprecedented joint airstrikes by the United States, 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 Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons.
Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and what appeared to be a flame lighting up the sky. From a distance, U.S. missiles hitting suburbs of the capital sounded like thunder. Shortly after the one-hour attack ended, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.
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âGood souls will not be humiliated,â Syriaâs presidency tweeted after the airstrikes began.
Immediately after the attack, hundreds of residents gathered in Damascusâ landmark Omayyad square, celebrating what they said was the armyâs 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, honking their horns in defiance.
âWe are not scared of Americaâs missiles. We humiliated their missiles,â said Mahmoud Ibrahim, half his body hanging outside his car window, waving a Syrian flag. The crowd then moved toward the nearby Damascus University where pro-government fighters danced, waving their automatic rifles over their heads.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday night that the three allies had launched military strikes to punish Assad for alleged chemical weapons use and to prevent him from doing it again. Trump said Washington is prepared to âsustainâ pressure on Assad until he ends what the president 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 on Saturday, scene of the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed more than 40 people.
The seemingly limited strikes with no apparent future strategy for how to deal with the wider civil war was a cause for celebration by Assad supporters but criticized by the Syrian opposition.
Mohammad Alloush, spokesperson for the Army of Islam rebel group, called the airstrikes a âfarceâ in a Twitter posting. Nasr al-Hariri, a senior opposition leader , said Syrians need a strategy that leads to a political solution to âsave it from the brutality of the Syrian regime.â
Al-Hariri, in a tweet, suggested the strikes send the wrong message that while it is not OK to use chemical weapons, the Syrian government can continue to âuse explosive barrels and cluster bombs.â
A Syrian military statement said in all, 110 missiles were fired by the U.S., Britain and France and that most of them were shot down or derailed. Russiaâs military said Syrian air defence units downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the U.S. and its allies.
The Syrian statement read by Brig. Gen. 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 âa number of missilesâ targeting a scientific research centre in Barzeh, near Damascus, destroyed a building and caused other material damage but n o human losses. Mayhoub said the building housed an educational centre and labs.
The attack began at 4 a.m. with missiles hitting the eastern suburbs of Damascus, shaking the grounds from a distance. The sky looked orange over eastern Damascus, apparently as a result of fires. Air defence units fired surface-to-air missiles from different directions toward incoming missiles.
At about sunrise, the sound of explosions could be heard just as the loudspeakers from the cityâs mosques called for morning prayers.
A car with loudspeakers blaring the national song âOh Syria, You Are My Loveâ could be heard driving through central Damascus during the attack.
Syrian TV called the attacks a âblatant violation of international law and shows contempt for international legitimacy.â
U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses during the initial airstrikes.
âRight now this is a one-time shot,â he said but did not rul e out further attacks. He said the airstrikes were launched against several sites that helped provide Assadâs ability to create chemical weapons.
Franceâs foreign minister said the âchemical escalationâ in Syria is not acceptable because it violated the rules of war and of humanity. Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters Saturday that the joint military operation in Syria is legitimate, limited and proportionate.
British Prime Minister Theresa May described the attack as neither âabout intervening in a civil warâ nor âabout regime changeâ but a limited and targeted strike that âdoes not further escalate tensions in the regionâ and does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.
The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trumpâs second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assadâs use of sarin gas against civilians.
Trump chastised Syriaâs two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting âmurderous dictators,â 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.
Iranâs Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that the attack on Syria was a âcrimeâ and declared the leaders of the U.S., France and the U.K. âcriminals,â according to Iranâs state-run IRNA news agency. The Iranian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the strikes and warned of unspecified consequences.
Russiaâs U.S. embassy released a statement warning that the airstrikes will ânot be left without consequences.â It said that âall responsibilityâ rests with Washington, London and Paris.
The United Nations Security Council is set to meet later Saturday following Russiaâs reque st.
The U.S. missile strike in April 2017 was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. That operation targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.
Fridayâs strikes were aimed to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks. The Pentagonâs Gen. Joseph Dunford said they a scientific research centre in the Damascus area that was involved in research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs he said was believed to be the main site of Syrian sarin production equipment; and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post, also west of Homs.Read more about: Delivered dailyThe Morning Headlines NewsletterSubscribe