US President Donald Trump along with allies, UK and France, has ordered air strikes in Syria to target areas associated with the chemical weapons capabilities.
The strikes were made early on Saturday in a response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in the former rebel stronghold of Douma last weekend.
“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House late on Friday.
The cities of Damascus, Homs and elsewhere in Syria reported hearing of explosions, as Trump spoke.
A US official told Reuters news agency that the attacks were aimed at multiple targets in Syria using Tomahawk cruise missiles.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed officially about Britain’s involvement in the intervention, saying: “We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion there is none.”
She said the attacks were not intended for a regime change or to intervene in the ongoing civil war, but were to “deter the use of chemical weapons” by the Syrian government.
French President Emmanuel Macron also confirmed that his country, France was also involved in the attack.
The main purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons,” Trump said.
According to the Syrian state TV, air defenses responded to the attack by shooting down several missiles.
State news agency SANA slammed the US-led strikes as a breach of international law and commented that the attack had targeted army depots in the Homs area.
“The tripartite aggression is a flagrant violation of international law,” SANA reported.
Russia’s ambassador to the US gave a stern warning that there would be consequences for the attacks, adding that it was not acceptable to insult Russia’s president in such a way.
“A pre-designed scenario is being implemented,” Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said on Twitter.
“Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.
“Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible,” he added.
“The US – the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons – has no moral right to blame other countries.”
Russian defence ministry said that not a single of the US and allied missiles entered Russian air defence zones in Syria.
A senior official in a regional alliance that supports Damascus said the Syrian government absorbed the attacks, while adding that the targeted sites were evacuated days ago thanks to a warning from Russia.
“We had an early warning of the strike from the Russians … and all military bases were evacuated a few days ago,” the official said.
About 30 missiles were launched in the attack, and a third of them were shot down, the official added.
“We are carrying out an assessment of the material damages,” the official added.
Assad has been backed in the seven-year-long Syrian war by regional powers like Russia, Iran, and Iran-backed groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The head of NATO Organization expressed his support for the US-led attacks.
“I support the actions taken by the United States, the United Kingdom and France… This will reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Syrian opposition leader Nasra al-Hariri called for a total end to what he described as all attacks against civilians by the Syrian state and its allies, whether using chemical or conventional weapons.
“Maybe the regime will not use chemical weapons again, but it will not hesitate to use weapons the international community has allowed it, such as barrel bombs and cluster bombs,” Hariri, head of the main Syrian opposition bloc, said in a tweet.
Only 10 days ago, Trump told national security aides that he wanted US forces out of Syria within six months, adamant that it was time to bring them home back after largely defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group.
“Very soon, very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said to a crowd in Richfield, Ohio, on March 30.
“We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be,” he said.
But with Saturday’s strikes, Trump has abruptly further deepened US involvement in Syria.
Aides told Reuters news agency that Trump’s attitude completely changed when he was shown images of Syrians allegedly killed by the chemical weapons last Saturday.
The strikes come about a year after he first ordered air strikes against Syrian targets to retaliate for an earlier use of the banned chemical substances.