Syrian Government warns Western airstrikes will "inflame tensions in the world"

The US, UK and France are briefing their NATO allies on the strikes

Syrian Government warns Western airstrikes will "inflame tensions in the world"

US President Donald Trump speaks after the military strikes in Syria, 13-04-2018. Image: Susan Walsh/AP/Press Association Images

Updated 15:10

A NATO Meeting is underway this afternoon with the UK, US and France due to brief allies on last night’s missile strike in Syria.

The three countries fired over 100 missiles in a coordinated operation targeting the Syrian Government’s chemical weapons capabilities.

The strikes were ordered following last Saturday’s alleged chemical attack in the city of Douma in the in the Eastern Ghouta countryside outside Damascus.

US President Donald Trump confirmed "precision strikes" had been ordered on targets associated with the Syrian government's chemical weapons programme.

In a televised address from the White House, President Trump said: "A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad."

President Trump said the military action was a "combined operation" with the armed forces of the UK and France.

He used the speech to once again condemn the “evil and despicable” alleged attack last week.

He said it “left mothers and fathers, infants and children trashing in pain and gasping for air.”  

“These are not the actions of a man – they are crimes of a monster instead.”

Addressing Iran and Russia directly he said: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?”

“The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep.”

"Inflame the world"

The Syrian Government meanwhile, has warned that the strikes "inflame tensions in the world." 

This afternoon Syrian President Bashar al Assad said the strikes will only increase his government's determination to continue what he described as his war against terrorism.

“This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country,” he said in comments published by his office. 

Video shows French armed forces leaving for syria

Damascus denies the chemical attack and views the strikes as "brutal, barbaric aggression" by western powers and vowed to continue to "restore security and stability in all corners of the country."

Syria's foreign ministry said: "The barbaric aggression will not affect in any way the determination and insistence of the Syrian people and their heroic armed forces," state news agency SANA reported, quoting an official source in the ministry.

"This aggression will only lead to inflaming tensions in the world" and threatens international security.

Unsanctioned

The strike was not sanctioned by NATO, however the organisation’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has voiced his support for the action.

In a statement he said NATO has “consistently condemned Syria's continued use of chemical weapons.”

“The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, and those responsible must be held accountable,” he said.

NATO considers the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security and believes that it is essential to protect the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“This calls for a collective and effective response by the international community.”

"Outrageous violation”

Russian president Vladimir Putin said the attack was “in violation of the UN charter and the norms and the principals of international law.”

A spokesperson for the president said Russian military experts did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agent at the attack site in Douma.

He said the attacks were a “sign of cynical distain” from a group of Western countries who decided to take military action without waiting for the results of an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The international weapons inspectors are currently en route to Damascus and have vowed to continue their investigation despite last night’s action

“Through its actions the US makes the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria even worse in bringing suffering to civilians,” he said.

“The current escalation around Syria is destructive for the entire system of international relations.

“History will set things right.”

He said Russia had called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

Syrian government supporters wave Syrian, Iranian and Russian flags during demonstrations against the military strikes, 14-04-2018. Image: Hassan Ammar/AP/Press Association Images

Russia's defence ministry said none of the strikes had hit areas near to Russia's air and naval bases.

Russia's foreign ministry said the strikes came as Syria had "a chance of a peaceful future" and were an "outrageous violation" of international law.

Moscow's ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov warned that "such actions will not be left without consequences" and "all responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris."

He added that "insulting the president of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible."

Chemical weapons

In a speech this afternoon, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Russia should take the missile strikes as a warning over its alleged use of chemical weapons.

Speaking in Downing Street, she said the strikes had been limited in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma last weekend.

She also drew a link with the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

"We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised - either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere," she said.

Moscow denies any involvement in the Salisbury attack and British chemical experts have said that while they can confirm the substance used was novichok – a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia from the 1970s onward – they could not confirm that it was produced in Russia.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has also confirmed that "high purity" novichok was used – however it offered no opinion as to where it was manufactured.

Russia President Vladimir Putin has said there are at least 20 countries around capable of producing the agent.

Both Moscow and Damascus have denied that any involvement in the alleged attack on Douma – claiming that it did not take place.

Asked if the strikes were a warning to Russia, Mrs May said: "The action that took place last night was an action which was focused on degrading and deterring the operational capability and the willingness of the Syrian regime to continue to use chemical weapons.

"There have been many instances when we have seen them using those chemical weapons.

"But I believe it should also be a message to others that the international community is not going to stand by and allow chemical weapons to be used with impunity."

"Legally questionable"

However the British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn has called the joint airstrikes in Syria "legally questionable," warning that they made "real accountability" for war crimes in the country less likely.

The Labour Party leader also said the UK should not be taking instructions from the US and putting British military personnel in danger.

"Bombs won't save lives or bring about peace," he said.

"This legally questionable action risks escalating further, as US defence secretary James Mattis has admitted, an already devastating conflict and therefore makes real accountability for war crimes and use of chemical weapons less, not more likely.

"Britain should be playing a leadership role to bring about a ceasefire in the conflict, not taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm's way.

"Theresa May should have sought parliamentary approval, not trailed after Donald Trump.

"The Government should do whatever possible to push Russia and the United States to agree to an independent UN-led investigation of last weekend's horrific chemical weapons attack so that those responsible can be held to account."

Chemical weapons

Earlier Mrs May confirmed she had ordered British armed forces to conduct "co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability and deter their use."

She said: "This is the first time as Prime Minister that I have had to take the decision to commit our armed forces in combat - and it is not a decision I have taken lightly.

"I have done so because I judge this action to be in Britain's national interest.

"We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised - within Syria, on the streets of the UK, or anywhere else in our world."

President Emmanuel Macron said France had joined the US and Britain to target "the capacities of the Syrian regime to produce and use chemical weapons."

"We cannot tolerate the normalisation of the use of chemical weapons," he said in a statement.

Large explosions

An RAF Tornado comes into land at Britain Royal Air Force base in Akrotiri, Cyprus, after conducting strikes in support of operations over the Middle East 14-04-2018. Image:  Cpl L Matthews/AP/Press Association Images

The Pentagon said more than 100 missiles were fired by the US and its allies at Syria in a "one-time shot."

Moments after the strikes were announced at around 2am UK time, several consecutive large explosions were reported around Damascus.

Smoke could be seen emerging from the northern and eastern edges of the capital, state media pictures showed.

It said three civilians were wounded in the Homs attacks.

Research centre

Syrian television said the attacks targeted a scientific research centre in Barzeh, near Damascus, and an army depot near Homs while it was reported air defences had hit 13 incoming rockets south of Damascus.

The US military said the allied strikes destroyed three main chemical weapons facilities.

They included a scientific research facility in the Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs and a third location that contained both a command post and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility in the same area, the US military added.

The Ministry of Defence said four RAF Tornado GR4s launched Storm Shadow missiles at one of the targets near Homs.

It said the military action was "proportionate" and "specifically aimed at degrading the Assad regime's ability to use chemical weapons and deterring further such appalling acts."

There were no reports of any allied losses and only limited resistance in the form of some Syrian surface-to-air missile activity.

But SANA said the strikes had caused only material damage at the scientific research centre in the Barzeh district of Damascus.

"The missiles that targeted a military position in Homs were thwarted and diverted from their path, and injured three civilians," it added.

Security Council

Russia said has called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the strikes and in a statement from the Kremlin said it "severely condemns" the attack on Syria.

The deputy head of Russia's foreign affairs committee said Vladimir Dzhabarov said: "The situation is being analysed right now.

"Russia will demand a meeting of the UN Security Council, I think, for sure."

Amnesty International warned that the strikes should "minimise harm to civilians" and urged President Trump to take in Syrian refugees.

Warning

France's defence minister said the operation targeted three sites and that Russia was informed before the strikes.

Florence Parly said the French military sent fighter jets from multiple bases in France and used missile-equipped frigates in the Mediterranean in the operation.

Rafale fighter jets could be seen on a video posted overnight by the French presidential palace on Twitter.

She said strikes targeted the "main research centre" for the Syrian chemical weapons programme and "two important production sites."

She added that "with our allies, we ensured that the Russians were warned ahead of time."

Additional reporting from IRN ...