-ANIETIE UDOBIT, The GUARDIAN
Russia’s deputy ambassador on the security council, Vladimir Safronkov, has angrily told the United States it should halt any military action against the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.He made this at the UN:
“We call on the United States to immediately cease its aggression and to join efforts to make a political solution in Syria, and to work together to combat the terrorist threat,” Safronkov said.
The ambassador added that he had heard “many insulting words” about Russia’s use of its veto rights on the UN security council, and defended Russia’s conduct. “We use it only in such circumstances in which you, you try in the UN security council, to impose your irresponsible geopolitical projects.”
Safronkov also said that the council must pay attention to air strikes, by the US-led coalition against Isis, in Mosul that killed dozens of civilians. “The mosul tragedy must be publicized, people must know about it,” Safronkov said. “Nothing was said about Mosul.”
“We do not want to draw attention away from Syria,” he added.
Last night, the US launched a missile strike against Syria for the first time since the civil war began, targeting an airbase from which the US said this week’s chemical weapons attack on civilians was launched by Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The airstrikes targeted Shayrat airbase near Homs. The US has said this is the location from which Syrian forces launched a sarin nerve gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun on Tuesday morning.
The Pentagon said 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from the warships USS Ross and Porter in the eastern Mediterranean in the early hours of Friday morning, local time.
A Syrian official told the Associated Press that at least seven were killed and nine were wounded in a US missile attack on the airbase. Reuters reported that the Syrian state news agency said the strikes killed nine civilians, including four children, in areas near the targeted airbase. The death toll has not been independently verified.
Some reports said senior officers had evacuated the base before the airstrikes happened and after foreign countries were notified of an imminent attack by the US.
President Bashar al-Assad’s office said the strike was “foolish and irresponsible” and “revealed its short-sightedness and political and military blindness to reality”. It said the government would redouble its efforts against rebel groups after the strike, adding: “the disgraceful act of targeting a sovereign state’s airport demonstrates once again that different administrations do not change deeper policies.”
Syrian rebels welcomed the strike and called for additional action. “Hitting one airbase is not enough – there are 26 airbases that target civilians,” a key figure in the Army of Islam faction, Mohamed Alloush, said on Twitter. “The whole world should save the Syrian people from the clutches of the killer Bashar [al-Assad] and his aides.”
Russia, a Syria ally that has been helping the Assad regime target rebel-held districts, condemned the US action. Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the president regarded the strikes as “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law, and under a false pretext”.
Peskov said Trump’s move would have consequences for relations between the two countries. “With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state.”
A Russian defence ministry statement read on state television said the US attack had been “ineffective” and claimed Syrian authorities were looking for 36 Tomahawk missiles that fell outside the base and missed the target. The statement also confirmed Russia would stop cooperation and communication with US forces in Syria.
Shortly thereafter, the Russian military said it would help Syria strengthen its air defences after the strike to help “protect the most sensitive Syrian infrastructure facilities”. In a post on Facebook, the Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, wrote about “completely ruined relations” between Russia and the US, saying the US strike was “good news for terrorists”.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said the strikes did not indicate a shift in US policy towards Syria, despite it being a significant change from the previous stance taken by the Trump administration. Tillerson said Russia bore responsibility for its handling of the 2013 deal that was supposed to remove Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
The Pentagon confirmed Russia had been told in advance of the strike through military channels, despite earlier claims from Tillerson that there had been no contact.
Hillary Clinton called for the US to “take out” Syrian government-controlled airfields just hours before Trump launched airstrikes.
The move was supported by key US allies, including the UK, Australia, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Italy and Japan said they understood the action taken by the US.
The UK defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said the British government was not asked to provide military support to the US attack but believes it was a “wholly appropriate”. “We’re not committed to military action against Syria. Our parliament considered that before, back in 2013, and turned it down,” he said.
Iran, Assad’s regional backer, said it “strongly condemned” the strikes, as it condemned “all unilateral military action”. It said the action was taken under the “pretext” of the chemical strike. Bahram Ghasemi, Tehran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said the attack “strengthens the near-to-death terrorists and complicates the situation in Syria and the whole region”.
The UN coordinator for humanitarian affairs, Jens Laerke, says it had no sign that US military strikes against a Syrian airbase had had “any direct consequence” on overall aid operations in Syria. A UN human rights office spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said on Friday at a UN briefing that use of chemical weapons, if confirmed, would amount to a war crime.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, has appealed to parties involved in the Syrian conflict for restraint to avoid adding to the suffering of Syria’s people.
Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Assad “bears full responsibility” for the US airstrikes against an airbase in Syria. The European commission said Jean-Claude Juncker “understands efforts to deter future attacks” and that the EU stood ready to play its role in finding a political solution to the crisis.
The Syrian Observatory on Human Rights said airstrikes may have struck Khan Sheikhun on Friday.
The UN security council has met to discuss the US strikes. Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said Assad has been “put on notice”, describing the strike as a “proportionate response to unspeakable acts.” French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said Assad’s goal is “annihilation, quite simply, of all those who resist him, whatever the price might be”.
French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre has told the UN security council that Assad’s goal is “annihilation, quite simply, of all those who resist him, whatever the price might be”. He described the US strike as legitimate as it had become “essential to deter” Assad.