Washington: In a planned mid night operation, the US, UK and France have launched air strikes gainst what they allege are Syrian chemical weapons facilities in response to chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb a week ago.
The Pentagon statement said the air strikes, which began at 4am Syrian time, involved planes and ship-launched missiles, more than a hundred weapons in all. A scientific research centre in Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and another storage site and command post nearby were the targets of air strikes.
However, in a televised address from the White House earlier to announce the strikes, Donald Trump said the US and its allies would strike again if there were more chemical weapons attacks by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” he said. Referring to last Saturday’s chemical weapons attack reported to have killed over 70 people, Trump said. “These are not actions of a man, they are crimes of a monster instead.”
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.
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,” Antonov’s 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 air 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 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.