US launches missiles …”SYRIA UNDER ATTACK”

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The US, UK and France launched more than 100 missiles On Friday night against what they say were Syrian chemical weapons facilities in response to a chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb a week ago.

The Pentagon said the strikes, which began at 4 am Syrian time, involved planes and ship-launched missiles and identified three targets: a scientific research centre in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and another storage site and command post nearby, the London Guardian reported on Saturday.

Announcing the launching of the action in a seven-minute speech, President Donald Trump said the US was prepared to sustain economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, until he ends what he called the criminal pattern of killing his own people with chemical weapons.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, condemned the airstrikes, saying they would add to the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, adding that Moscow was calling for an emergency session of the UN security council to debate the military action.

He called the strikes an act of aggression that had a “destructive influence on the entire system of international relations”.

China and Iran joined in the condemnations of the strikes. Syria’s president Assad said would increase Syria’s resolve to “fight and crush terrorism in every inch” of the country.

Highlighting the limited nature of the raids – and the desire to avoid a dangerous escalation – the US defence secretary, James Mattis, said:

“Right now this is a one-time shot”. The French defence minister, Florence Parly, said Moscow had been warned by France and its allies about the strikes beforehand.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said he was closely watching reports of the attack and told the countries involved that they were obliged to act within the guidelines of the charter of the United Nations and “international law in general”.

The Russian military claimed Syrian air defences had shot down some of the incoming missiles, including 12 aimed at an airbase, claims that could not be verified. Russia said it had not engaged its own air defences at its air and naval bases in Syria.

As large detonations were visible in several parts of the war-torn country, Syrians crowded on to the streets in noisy demonstrations of defiance and their Russian ally denounced the attack.

After Trump finished his seven-minute address, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron made separate announcements of British and French participation, stressing that the strikes were limited to Syrian regime chemical facilities, and had no wider goals.

May said there was no alternative to the action the three countries were taking.

Explosions were reported in Damascus moments after Trump’s address. Later, a Syrian official said all sites had been evacuated days ago after a warning from Russia.

The Russian ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, issued a statement threatening “consequences”. “A pre-designed scenario is being implemented,” the statement said. “Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.”

None of the strikes hit zones where Russian air defence systems protect the Russian bases of Tartus and Hmeimim, Russian news agencies cited the Ministry of Defence as saying.

The Pentagon said in the immediate aftermath of the strikes that while there had been some Syrian air defence fire, it was not clear whether Russian air defences in Syria had responded.

The attack came on the eve of a planned visit by inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the site of last week’s chemical weapons attacks, the Damascus suburb of Douma. The US, UK and France had announced they had reached their own conclusion that the Syrian regime was responsible, an accusation denied by Damascus and Russia, which claimed on Friday the attack had been staged by British intelligence.

The White House produced a summary of the evidence it said pointed to the regime’s responsibility for the Douma attack. It said that regime helicopters were seen by witnesses hovering over the area of the attack on 7 April dropping barrel bombs. Remnants of the barrel bombs looked like “chlorine barrel bombs from past attacks”. It said that the victims showed symptoms of both chlorine and sarin poisoning.

The White House assessment also claimed there was “reliable information indicating coordination between Syrian military officials before the attack”.

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