Friday 28 July 2017

Russia and Iran say US missile strikes crossed 'red lines'

A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter rests near destroyed airplane parts inside Tabqa military airport after taking control of it from Isil fighters, west of Raqqa city, Syria. Photo: Rodi Said/Reuters
A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter rests near destroyed airplane parts inside Tabqa military airport after taking control of it from Isil fighters, west of Raqqa city, Syria. Photo: Rodi Said/Reuters

Ben Farmer and Gordon Rayner

Russia and Iran last night threatened military retaliation against the US, accusing President Donald Trump of crossing "red lines" by ordering a missile attack on a Syrian air base.

The two military allies of Syria said the US bombardment had violated international law and, in a statement, added: "From now on, we will respond with force."

The warning came after the Russian embassy in the UK suggested that British and American attempts to deliver an ultimatum to the Kremlin this week could result in a "real war".

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is understood to be working on a proposal from the G7 group of nations, which will demand that Vladimir Putin remove his troops from Syria and drop his backing for Bashar al-Assad.

Mr Johnson cancelled plans to visit Moscow this week to work on the proposal, which it is understood will include a tacit offer to Russia to rejoin the G7 if it complies.

Yesterday, Russia mocked Mr Johnson, saying his refusal to visit was "deplorable" and, in a series of jibes on Twitter, questioned whether he would make a fit wartime lieutenant to the American president.

US air strikes were criticised by Bashar al-Assad’s allies. Photo: Syrian Presidency via AP, File
US air strikes were criticised by Bashar al-Assad’s allies. Photo: Syrian Presidency via AP, File

The threat from Russian and Iranian forces came as Washington intensified pressure on Mr Assad and his backers, with Mr Trump's administration saying there was now "no way" a peace settlement could be found with the Syrian dictator in power.

HR McMaster, White House national security adviser, said Russia and Iran were enabling Mr Assad's "campaign of mass murder against his own civilians" and America was "prepared to do more".

Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, said Washington would expect Russia to rethink its support for Mr Assad because "every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility".

However, a joint command centre made up of forces from Russia, Iran and militias supporting Mr Assad said they would redouble their backing, after 59 US cruise missiles hit Shayrat air base in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.

A statement from the centre said: "What America waged in an aggression on Syria is a crossing of red lines. From now on, we will respond with force to any aggressor or any breach of red lines from whoever it is, and America knows our ability to respond well."

The centre also said the presence of US troops in northern Syria, where it has hundreds of special forces helping the Syrian Democratic Forces to oust Isil, was "illegal".

In a separate phone call between Moscow and Tehran, Mr Putin and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said that US aggression against Syria violated international law.

The two leaders also called for an investigation into the nerve gas attack in Idlib province, which Syria has claimed was caused by a stockpile of rebel-held chemical weapons being hit by a stray bomb.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, also accused America of making a "strategic mistake" by attacking Syria, and said the country would not back down.

Alex Salmond, the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman, said Mr Johnson looked "daft" for pulling out of a meeting with the Russians in Moscow.

He told the BBC's 'Andrew Marr Show': "The idea the foreign secretary can't be trusted because he might pursue his own line or have an independent thought or crossover what the Americans are going to say just makes him look like some sort of mini-me to the United States of America."

Irish Independent

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