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Trump Orders Strikes On Syria Aimed At Stopping Chemical Weapons

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump announced "precision strikes" on Syrian military facilities used to make chemical weapons and said the attacks launched jointly with France and Britain are aimed at ending the use of such weapons of mass destruction.

The strikes were launched as Trump gave made an address to the nation late on April 13, making good on his vow 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."

Even as Trump spoke, explosions could be heard and seen lighting up the skies and sending smoke over and near Syria's capital Damascus.

Russia warned that the strikes will not go "without consequences," while Syria and Iran called the attacks "a flagrant violation of international law" and said the Syrian military was countering them with anti-aircraft weapons and had shot down 13 missiles.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said bombs had hit a scientific research center and military bases in Damascus that house the Syrian army's Republican Guard and other elite units.

The observatory said some of the bases and airports targeted in the attack were evacuated earlier this week. Syrian officials also said the bases were evacuated days ago after a warning from Russia that they were likely targets.

Britain's Defense Ministry said that a facility outside Homs where Syria was believed to keep the precursors for chemical weapons was also targeted.

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.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim 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.

"Not one of the cruise missiles released by the U.S. and its allies entered the zone of responsibility of Russian air defenses protecting facilities in Tartus and Hmeimim," the ministry said.

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."

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.

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."

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.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa