SYRIA: Latest on US, allied strikes aimed at Syria’s chemical weapons

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump said. Syrians crowded onto the streets in noisy demonstrations of defiance afterward and their ally Russia denounced the attack.

Pentagon officials said the attacks targeted the heart of Assad’s programs to develop and produce chemical weapons.

Syrian television reported that Syria’s air defenses, which are substantial, responded to the attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses in what he described as a heavy but carefully limited assault.

Syrians gather in capital in defiance after airstrikes
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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Hundreds of Syrians gathered at landmark squares in the Syrian capital Saturday, honking their car horns, flashing victory signs and waving Syrian flags in scenes of defiance that followed unprecedented joint airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain.

A few hours earlier, before sunrise, loud explosions jolted Damascus and the sky turned orange as Syrian air defense units fired surface-to-air missiles in response to three waves of military strikes meant to punish President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons.

Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and what appeared to be a fire light up the sky. From a distance, U.S. missiles hitting suburbs of the capital sounded like thunder. Shortly after the one-hour attack ended, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.

“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syria’s presidency tweeted after the airstrikes began.

Immediately after the attack, hundreds of residents began gathering in the landmark Omayyad square of the Syrian capital. Many waved Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags. Some clapped their hands and danced, other drove in convoys, honking their horns in defiance.

“We are your men, Bashar,” they shouted.
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Fighter jets were seen taking off from a British Royal Air Force (RAF) base in Cyprus early on Saturday morning. (April 13)

Syrian state TV broadcast live from the square where a large crowd of civilians mixed with men in uniforms, including an actor, lawmakers and other figures.

“Good morning steadfastness,” one broadcaster said.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday night that the three allies had launched military strikes to punish Syrian Assad for alleged chemical weapons use and to prevent him from doing it again. Trump said Washington is prepared to “sustain” pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons. A fact-finding team of inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog was in Damascus and had been expected to head to the town of Douma on Saturday, scene of the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed more than 40 people.

Syrian TV said three civilians were wounded in one of the U.S.-led strikes on a military base in Homs, although the attack was aborted by derailing the incoming missile. It said another attack with “a number of missiles” targeting a scientific research center destroyed a building and caused other material damage but no human losses. The network says the building in the research center included an educational center and labs.

It said earlier that the attacks targeted a scientific research center in Barzeh, near Damascus, and an army depot near Homs.

Syrian media reported that air defenses had hit 13 incoming rockets south of Damascus. It said the

The attack began at 4 a.m. (0100 GMT) with missiles hitting the eastern suburbs of Damascus, shaking the grounds from a distance. The sky looked orange over eastern Damascus apparently as a result of fires caused by the missiles hitting Syria. Air defense units fired surface-to-air missiles from different directions toward incoming missiles.

At about sunrise, the sound of explosions could be heard just as the loudspeakers from the city’s mosques called for morning prayers.

A car with loudspeakers blaring the national song “Oh Syria, You Are My Love” could be heard driving through central Damascus amid the attack.

Syrian TV called the attacks a “blatant violation of international law and shows contempt for international legitimacy.”

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses during the initial airstrikes.
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“Right now this is a one-time shot,” he said but did not rule out further attacks. He said the airstrikes were launched against several sites that helped provide Assad’s ability to create chemical weapons.

Britain’s defense ministry said that while the effectiveness of the strike is still being analyzed, “initial indications are that the precision of the Storm Shadow weapons and meticulous target planning have resulted in a successful attack.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May describes the attack as neither “about intervening in a civil war” nor “about regime change” but a limited and targeted strike that “does not further escalate tensions in the region” and does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

“We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion there is none,” May said.

The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump’s second order to attack Syria; he authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.

Trump chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting “murderous dictators,” and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all of his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.

Russia’s U.S. embassy released a statement warning that the airstrikes will “not be left without consequences.” It said that “all responsibility” rests with Washington, London and Paris.

The allied operation comes a year after a U.S. missile strike that Trump said was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other things.

The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.

Friday’s strikes appear to signal Trump’s willingness to draw the United States more deeply into the Syrian conflict. The participation of British and French forces enables Trump to assert a wider international commitment against the use of chemical weapons, but the multi-pronged attack carries the risk of Russian retaliation.

In his nationwide address, Trump stressed that he has no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances,” he said. “As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home.”

The U.S. has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-Islamic State fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. They are in eastern Syria, far from Damascus. A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break the IS grip on both Syria and Iraq.
The Latest: Israel says Syria brought airstrikes on itself

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on U.S.-led missile strikes on Syria (all times local):

3:20 a.m.

Israel says in response to the American-led strike in Syria that the Middle Eastern country’s “murderous actions” put itself in danger.

An official says in a statement Saturday that President Donald Trump made clear last year that the use of chemical weapons was a red line not to be crossed.

He says the overnight operation carried out by the United States, France and Britain followed that example. The official says that “Syria continues to carry out murderous actions and be a base for these actions and others, including Iran’s, that put its territory, forces and leadership in peril.”

The official spoke anonymously according to protocol. There has been no other official Israeli response yet.

Israel has issued several stern warnings of late about Iran’s increased involvement along its border in Syria in Lebanon.

— Aron Heller in Jerusalem

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British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has expressed his support for the airstrikes on Syria authorized by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Johnson tweeted Saturday that he welcomed the news of the military strike against major chemical weapons facilities in Syria in concert with “our U.S. and French allies.”

Johnson said: “The world is united in its disgust for any use of chemical weapons, but especially against civilians.”

May authorized the strikes without a vote from Parliament, which has been in recess. She had received support from her Cabinet in a crisis session.

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3:15 a.m.

The United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump said. Syrians crowded onto the streets in noisy demonstrations of defiance afterward and their ally Russia denounced the attack.

Pentagon officials said the attacks targeted the heart of Assad’s programs to develop and produce chemical weapons.

Syrian television reported that Syria’s air defenses, which are substantial, responded to the attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses in what he described as a heavy but carefully limited assault.
Pence to outline Syrian missile strike at Latin summit

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Abroad during a major military strike, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence plans to address Latin American leaders Saturday on President Donald Trump’s decision to launch air strikes in Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack in the war-torn nation.

Pence was whisked away from the Summit of the Americas late Friday so he could inform U.S. congressional leaders by phone of Trump’s plans to announce the missile strikes. The vice president spoke to top Republican and Democratic leaders from his hotel suite before attending a banquet hosted by Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra.

For Pence, the calls and schedule changes served as the latest example of his supporting role here in place of Trump, who pulled out of the summit so he could manage the U.S. response to the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

Pence’s motorcade took him from opening events surrounding the summit about 45 minutes before Trump addressed the nation on the military strikes in coordination with France and Great Britain. Aides said he had been in touch with Trump “multiple times” as he traveled to Peru aboard Air Force Two and also conferred with national security adviser John Bolton.

Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff, said the vice president planned to address the gathering of Latin American leaders about the strikes on Saturday.

Pence will dive quickly into a series of diplomatic hurdles in Trump’s place. The vice president will sit down with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has yet to meet with Trump amid an impasse over the wall Trump has pledged to build along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pence’s meeting with Pena Nieto will follow Trump’s recent calls to send National Guard troops to the border. That adds further tensions as the neighbors, along with Canada, work to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The vice president was also meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in talks expected to address NAFTA.

Much of Pence’s message will be aimed at building support for further isolating Venezuela, which has faced U.S. sanctions amid a political crisis led by President Nicolas Maduro.

Shortly after arriving in Lima, Pence announced that the U.S. would provide nearly $16 million in humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans who have fled their country and met with opposition leaders who pleaded for more sanctions.

In a series of meetings with Latin American leaders, Pence plans to promote good governance and democratic institutions and urge allies to maintain pressure on Maduro. The U.S. has sanctioned Maduro and dozens of top officials, accusing the country of human rights abuses and sliding into a dictatorship.
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Maduro has been barred from the summit over his plans to hold a presidential election that the opposition is boycotting and that many foreign governments consider a sham.

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