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U.S., Allies Launch Strikes On Syria Over Chemical Weapons Attack

SYRIA – The Damascus sky lights up missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018

The United States, along with allies France and Britain, launched air strikes on Syria early on April 14 in response to a suspected Syrian chemical attack that killed dozens of people last week.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced the military action from the White House, saying it was aimed at ending the use of such weapons of mass destruction. Trump had vowed to make Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who he called a "monster," a "criminal," and a "murderous dictator," pay a "big price" for an April 7 suspected toxic gas attack on the town of Douma that killed at least 43 civilians.

Noting that he ordered air strikes a year ago over a previous Syrian toxic gas attack that killed nearly 100 people, Trump said the latest "massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the strike would increase Syria's resolve to "fight and crush terrorism in every inch" of the country.

In a statement issued by the Kremlin, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the U.S.-led military action as "act of aggression against a sovereign state that is at the forefront of the battle against terrorism."

Putin also said Russia was calling an emergency session of the UN Security Council. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the U.S.-led action in Syria was a crime and would not achieve any gains.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry earlier warned the strike would have “regional consequences,” Iranian media reported. Syrian television reported that Syria's air defenses, which are substantial, responded to the attack. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses in what he described as a heavy but carefully limited assault.

The Syrian military said it had shot down 13 missiles. U.S. General Joseph Dunford said three sites involved in the research and production of chemical weapons in western Syria were the main targets of the attack. Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said missiles first struck a scientific research center in the Damascus area that he said was a center of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons program.

The two other strikes targeted chemical weapons storage facilities west of Homs, Dunford said. Trump said the main purpose of the attacks was to establish "a strong deterrent" against chemical weapons use, which he said killed more than 1 million people during World War I a century ago before it was banned worldwide.

About an hour after Trump finished speaking, the Pentagon said the wave of more than 100 missile strikes was over and there were no reports of losses among U.S. and allied forces involved in the attacks.

The British Defense Ministry said initial indications were the attacks were "successful" in destroying their targets. Syrian officials reported injuries among civilians and military personnel.

Mattis said no further attacks are planned, and "right now this is a one-time shot." Any further military action would depend on whether Syria keeps using chemical weapons, he said.

The Pentagon said the strikes were twice as large as those Trump ordered on a Syrian airfield last year. It said targets were chosen so as to avoid hitting Russian forces in Syria, but it did not notify Russia of the targets in advance.

The Russian Defense Ministry said early on April 14 that none of the strikes hit areas near Russia's air and naval bases in Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry also claimed a majority of the missiles filed by the United States and its allies had been intercepted by Syrian government air defense systems, TASS news agency reported.

The Russian news agency TASS reported that the business center of Damascus, where a parliamentary delegation from Russia was staying at a hotel, was not hit by the bombing.

Trump called on both Russia and Iran to stop supporting Assad's "murderous" and "terrible regime." Trump said the two countries are "most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime."

"What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?" he asked. "The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep."

Addressing Moscow in particular, Trump said Assad's repeated use of chemical weapons against his own people is a "direct result" of Russia's failure to hold its ally to a 2013 agreement to abandon and destroy its chemical weapons.

Russia failed to keep its promise to restrain Assad, Trump said. Now, he said, "Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace."

In his remarks quoted by Russian media on April 14, Putin said the strike had a "destructive influence on the entire system of international relations." He also reaffirmed Russia's view that the purported chemical attack in Douma that prompted the strike was a fake. Earlier, the Russian Ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov strongly denounced the attacks, saying in a statement that "the worst expectations have materialized.

Our warnings fell on deaf ears... We are being threatened again." "We have warned that such actions will not remain without consequences," Antonov said. "All responsibility for them rests upon Washington, London and Paris." Antonov added that "insulting the Russian president was inadmissible," in an apparent reaction to some of Trump's comments.

"The United States, a country that has the largest arsenal of chemical weapons, has no moral right to accuse other countries,"Antonov said. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was not as confrontational as Antonov in her response, questioning on Facebook why the West would stage such attacks at a time when Syria had "a chance for peace at last," in an apparent reference to the Syrian government's recent success at gaining an upper hand in the civil war.

In Iran, Khamenei said the U.S.-led strike was a "crime." "I clearly declare that the president of the United States, the president of France and the British prime minister are criminals," Khamenei said in a speech, according to his Twitter account.

"They will not benefit (from the attack) as they went to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan in the past years and committed such crimes and did not gain any benefits," Khamenei said. Iranian President Hassan Rohani said the U.S.-led missile attack on Syria would lead to destruction in the Middle East, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.

"Such attacks will have no result but more destruction ... the Americans want to justify their presence in the region by such attacks," Rohani was quoted as saying by Tasnim. Rohani told Assad in a telephone call that Iran would continue to stand by Syria, "expressing his confidence that this aggression would not weaken the determination of the Syrian people in its war against terrorism," the Syrian presidency said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke in addresses to their nations within minutes of Trump's statement. "A red line has been crossed," said Macron.

"We cannot tolerate the normalization of the use of chemical weapons." French Defense Minister Florence Parly told reporters on April 14 that its joint military operation targeted three sites and that Russia was informed ahead of time.

Earlier, Dunford said the Russians had not been notified before the strikes, but normal “deconfliction channels” had been used for “airspace issues.”

May said the strikes were "limited and targeted" to "degrade the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability" while minimizing civilian casualties. "This is not about intervening in a civil war.

It is not about regime change," she said. The strike will send "a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity," she said.

"We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized – within Syria, on the streets of the U.K., or anywhere else in our world," she said. May later told reporters on April 14 that reports indicate a barrel bomb was used in the Syrian regime chemical attack on Douma.

Western Missile Attack On Syria Was "Right And Legal", British PM May Says
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She said intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials coordinated what appears to have been the use of chlorine in Douma. May said Russian claims the attack was fake were "grotesque and absurd."

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa