Moscow: Two Russian warships laden with military vehicles have been spotted en route to Syria after Friday’s US-led airstrikes obliterated three suspected chemical weapons sites.
An Alligator-landing ship was pictured cruising down The Bosphorus on Sunday as the world awaits Vladimir Putin’s response to this week’s co-ordinated military action against Syria.
The vessel was spotted on its way to the Russian naval base at Tartus on the north Syrian coast.
On its fourth deployment of Russian military equipment to the war-torn country the ship was seen laden with tanks, trucks, ambulances and an IED radar.
A yellow RoRo Alexandr Tkachenko was also pictured heading for Tartus carrying high-speed patrol boats, a temporary bridge structure and several trucks. The images were posted on social media by Bosphorus-based naval observer Yörük Işık.
They come in wake of Friday’s US-led campaign against Bashar al-Assad’s regime and a chemical weapons attack that brutally murdered 75 civillians.
The blue Project 117 LST Orsk 148 ship was carrying Soviet BTR-80 tanks, Ramaz trucks and a Pelena-1 bomb radar, used to detect IEDs.
A second yellow cargo vessel was equipped with a BMK-T boat used for building temporary bridges and an array of other military hardware.
The Russian warships approaching Syria come after the United States outlined new economic sanctions in response to Moscow’s continued support of Assad’s regime in Syria.
Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations, said measures to be imposed on Monday will send a message to Russia after it blocked six UN attempts to investigate its use of chemical weapons.
In Washington President Donald Trump stood by his comments that the strikes he commanded were a ‘mission accomplished’ after he was slated for repeating George W Bush’s controversial use of the phrase during the Iraq war.
Meanwhile French President Emmanuel Macron today insisted the allied forces had not ‘declared war’ on Syria.
He told a French TV station: ‘We have not declared war on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.’ During the two-hour interview he also claimed he had ‘convinced’ Trump to maintain a military presence in Syria after the US leader threatened to pull out of the country entirely.
It emerged that Trump called Mr Macron twice before he shared his intention to strike Syria in a Twitter post. But he failed to call UK Prime Minister Theresa May in the early stages of the operation, giving the French leader the opportunity to claim France is America’s leading ally in Europe.
Vladimir Putin condemned Friday’s strikes as an ‘act of aggression’ that will worsen the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and have a ‘destructive influence on the entire system of international relations.
But Trump has vowed to carry out more if Bashar al-Assad’s regime dares to use chemical weapons again.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson today defended Britain’s decision to stand up to ‘barbarism’ amid criticism of Mrs May for agreeing to the strike without a vote in the House of Commons. Some 75 people, including children, are said to have died when the Syrian regime used chlorine gas and another nerve agent in Douma last Saturday.
Aid workers told how chlorine could be smelled in the air and victims were found with foam in their mouth and with burning eyes.
Pope Francis told the faithful in St. Peter’s Square that he is `’deeply disturbed’ by the international community’s failure to come up with a common response to the crisis in Syria and other parts of the world.
‘Despite the tools available to the international community, it is difficult to agree on a common action toward peace in Syria or other regions of the world,’ the Pope told a crowd of 30,000 after his traditional Sunday blessing.
Assad continues to deny using any chemical weapons, telling visiting Russian politicians today that Western air strikes against his country were accompanied by a campaign of ‘lies’ and misinformation at the UN.
But in response to the deaths, scores of fast jets, fighters and destroyers fired more than 100 missiles at three military targets in Syria on Friday night.
The first and largest target in the airstrikes was the Barzah Research and Development Centre which was considered to be the ‘heart’ of the regime’s chemical weapons program.
The second target was the Hinshar Chemical Weapons Storage Facility. It was destroyed by 22 weapons including Scalp and Storm Shadows and three Naval cruise missiles. The third target, the Hinshar CW Bunker, was hit by seven Scalp missiles. Three civilians were injured but there have been no confirmed fatalities.
Russia has military forces, including air defences, in several areas of Syria to support President Assad in his long war against anti-government rebels.
Confusion arose over the extent to which Washington warned Moscow in advance. The Pentagon said it gave no explicit warning. The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, John Huntsman, said in a video, ‘Before we took action, the United States communicated with’ Russia to ‘reduce the danger of any Russian or civilian casualties.’
A Pentagon spokeswoman said that to her knowledge no-one communicated with Moscow other than to use a military-to-military hotline that has routinely helped minimise the risk of U.S.-Russian collisions or confrontations in Syrian airspace. Officials said this did not include giving Russian advance notice of where or when allied airstrikes would happen.
France has continued to talk regularly with Russia even as East-West tensions have grown. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, hours before the Western missile strikes.
Between the jets and warships, 76 missiles annihilated the Barzah research center. Fifty-seven of those were Tomahawk missiles and 19 were Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.
The Tomahawks were mostly fired from the USS Monterey, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and the USS Higgins, USS Laboon and the USS John Warner submarine.
France deployed its Mirage and Dassault Rafale jets and reportedly used four frigate warships. It is not clear how many aircraft were deployed. Britain is believed only to have fired missiles from its Torpedoes and Typhoon aircraft.
Other ships from each nation’s military were in the region, including the USS Donald Cook, but did not fire any weapons. Despite the attack, White said the US was still committed to a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the ongoing civil war in Syria.
‘Our goal has not changed. Our goal in Syria is to defeat ISIS….but Assad’s actions were beyond the pale. We do not seek conflict in Syria but we cannot allow such grievous violations of international law,’ she said. ‘We will not stand by passively while Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, ignores international law.’
Iran condemned the Western strikes on Syria, saying no country has a right to take punitive measures against another ‘beyond international procedures.’