Monday 25 June 2018

Russia blames Israel for strike on Syrian base

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Chris Graham in Beirut

Russia blamed Israel for a missile attack on a Syrian air base yesterday morning, which came after President Bashar al-Assad triggered international outrage by carrying out a suspected chemical attack in a besieged suburb of Damascus.

The US and France both denied attacking the T-4 airfield near Homs, which is close to the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria.

Children are treated after and alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma. Photo: Reuters
Children are treated after and alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma. Photo: Reuters

Russia said Israel launched eight missiles, five of which were shot down, from outside of Syrian airspace.

At least 14 fighters, including Iranians, were killed in the early morning strike, according to the monitoring organisation the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syria also accused Israel of carrying out the strike.

A military spokeswoman for Israel, which has struck Syrian military positions several times in recent years, declined to comment on the strike.

A Syrian military source was quoted in local media as saying air defences shot down eight missiles fired at the base, where defence analysts say there are large deployments of Russian forces, and where jets fly regular sorties to strike rebel-held areas.

Children are treated after and alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma. Photo: Reuters
Children are treated after and alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma. Photo: Reuters

Price

It came after Donald Trump on Sunday warned Russia's Vladimir Putin that there would be a "big price to pay" for a suspected Syrian chemical weapons attack that killed 70 people, including children.

In his harshest criticism of the Russian leader since taking office, Mr Trump said Mr Putin was partly "responsible" for the attack on rebels in Douma, a town in Eastern Ghouta.

The US president also criticised Barack Obama's failure to police a "red line" over chemical weapons, while a senior White House official said no form of response was "off the table".

The comments raise the possibility of a US airstrike against the Syrian regime.

Mr Trump approved a strike a year ago after a similar chemical attack.

The UN security council is expected to meet today after the UK, France, America and six other countries called for an emergency session.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was also under pressure to join any US military intervention against the Assad regime, though MPs are not expected to be recalled to parliament.

In a phone call with Mr Trump on Sunday night, French President Mr Macron strongly condemned the "chemical attacks", and the pair vowed a "strong, joint response", the White House said.

Russia, Iran and Syria all denied chemical weapons had been used, with the Kremlin warning that any military response from the West would be "absolutely unacceptable".

A residential area of Douma, one of the last-remaining rebel-held areas in Syria, was struck by the suspected chemical weapons attack around 8.45pm on Saturday.

Footage from the ground showed the dead bodies of children and adults foaming at the mouth with open eyes. Many had been in a basement when the attack hit.

Mr Trump tweeted: "Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria.

"Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world.

"President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay.

"Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!"

He also criticised his predecessor's failure to launch air strikes after past chemical weapons use, tweeting: "If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!"

Rhetoric

US media reported that Mr Trump would meet military leaders yesterday while Republican congressmen demanded that he follow through his tough rhetoric with action.

The attack came almost exactly a year after deadly sarin gas was used on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, which prompted Mr Trump to approve dropping US Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airbase.

The Union of Medical Relief Organisations, a US-based charity that works with Syrian hospitals, said 70 had been confirmed dead but the toll was expected to rise.

If it reaches above 80, it would be the deadliest chemical attack since the 2013 sarin strike on Eastern Ghouta which left around 1,400 dead.

Irish Independent

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