Syria airstrikes: US warns it is ‘locked and loaded’ if Assad uses chemical weapons again – latest news

Donald Trump has hailed coordinated US, British and French air strikes on Syria as “mission accomplished”.

The military action was launched in the early hours of Saturday morning to punish the Syrian regime for a chemical weapons attack.

The US president said the military action by US, British and French jets had been “perfectly executed”.

At a press conference in Downing Street on Saturday morning, Theresa May said: “There is no graver decision for a prime minister than to commit our forces to combat and this is the first time I have had to do so.”

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said the strike had a “destructive influence on the entire system of international relations” and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Three Syrian sites involved in the use of chemical weapons were targeted in the attack – one scientific facility near Damascus and two storage facilities near Homs. Pentagon officials said that 105 missiles had been fired in the strike at the three targets. 

Addressing the nation in a televised statement late on Friday evening, Mr Trump said it was a response to the “evil and despicable” chemical attack by the Syrian regime last Saturday. 

He said: “The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons. Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States.”

Mr Trump added: “To Iran and to Russia I ask – what kind of regime 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. No state can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.”

Mrs May said on Saturday morning that the UK was “confident” that the strikes had succeeded in degrading Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile and in deterring future use. 

She said the strikes were not about “intervening in a civil war” or “regime change” but to ensure chemical weapons were not used again. 

She said: “It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

“And while this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian Regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, called the strikes “legally questionable” and said Mrs May should have sought Parliamentary approval for the attack “not trailed after Donald Trump”.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said: “The facts and the responsibility of the Syrian regime [for Saturday’s attack] are not in any doubt. The red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed.” 

Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, condemned the attack and said there would be “consequences”. 

He said: “The worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard. A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. 

“We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.

“Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.”

Syrian state media slammed Western strikes on Saturday as illegal.

“The aggression is a flagrant violation of international law, a breach of the international community’s will, and it is doomed to fail,” said state news agency SANA.

The missiles were launched around 9pm, Washington DC time, as Mr Trump stepped before the cameras in the White House to address the nation. 

Some missiles were targeted by surface-to-air missile systems controlled by the Syrian regime, according to the Pentagon. 

The sites chosen were involved in the “research, development and deployment” of chemical weapons, a Pentagon official said.  

One target was a scientific facility in the greater Damascus area which had been involved in researching and testing chemical weapons. 

Damascus sky lights up with surface to air missile fire 

Damascus sky lights up with surface to air missile fire 

Credit:
AP

Two targets were near the city of Homs. Both were chemical weapons storage facilities, one had also been used as a command post. 

The sites had been chosen to minimise civilian casualties and avoid Russian troops stationed on the ground in Syria.

James Mattis, the US defence secretary, said more than double the number of missiles were used than in the US air strike against Syria in April 2017, when 59 missiles were launched.  He also confirmed that the strike was over during a Pentagon briefing at around 10.10pm, meaning it lasted no more than 70 minutes. 

Russia was not warned before the air strikes were launched and there was no explicit coordination over the attack, a Pentagon official said.

A US-Russia “deconfliction line” to avoid crashes over Syrian airspace was used, the official said, but he stressed it is used most days.

 A fighter jet lands at Akrotiri military British Royal Air Force Base, Cyprus

 A fighter jet lands at Akrotiri military British Royal Air Force Base, Cyprus

Credit:
AP

Britain used Four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s to launch Storm Shadow missiles at one of the facilities near Homs, the Ministry of Defence said. 

Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, said the strikes were “highly successful” and that all RAF crews had returned safely. He said the strikes played “an important role in terms of degrading the Syrian regime in using chemical weapons in the future”.

Latest updates….

9:22PM

Trump’s call with May

President Trump spoke over the phone with the Prime Minister. The President thanked Mrs May for her support to rid Syria of chemical weapons, the White House said.  

“The President and the Prime Minister affirmed that our recent airstrikes in Syria in response to the April 7 chemical weapons attack on the besieged enclave of Douma were successful and necessary to deter their further use.”

8:17PM

Syrian army declares Ghouta fully retaken 

The Syrian army on Saturday declared that all anti-regime forces had left Eastern Ghouta, nearly two months into a blistering offensive on the rebel enclave.

“All terrorists have left Douma, the last of their holdouts in Eastern Ghouta,” state news agency SANA quoted an army spokesman as saying, using the regime’s usual term for rebels.

“Areas of Eastern Ghouta in rural Damascus have been fully cleansed of terrorism,” an army spokesman also said in a statement delivered on state television.

8:06PM

Syria: ‘Stop the aggression’

The Syrian Ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari, said the military action that took place overnight will not prevent Syria from achieving its aim of “defeating the terrorists” in the country.

He said the strikes by the US, France and the UK was “very strange” and asked those involved to “stop the aggression”.

Mr Jaafari also presented three copies of the UN charter outlining its position regarding international law, and urged the US, UK and France to “re-read” it.

He said the “attacks” on Syria, were an attack on the entire UN Security Council.

6:38PM

Macron: UN must take initiative

“It is now for the United Nations Security Council, in unity, to take initiative again political, chemical and humanitarian questions in Syria,” the French presidency said in a brief statement.

6:26PM

UN rejects Russian bid to condemn military strikes on Syria

The UN Security Council has rejected Russia’s motion to condemn the military strikes on Friday evening.

6:25PM

May, Macron and Trump agree strikes were ‘success’

The three leaders spoke over the phone this afternoon and agreed the military strikes were a success, Downing Street said.

A spokesperson for Mrs May said: “In separate calls, the Prime Minister this afternoon spoke with President Macron and President Trump. 

“The three leaders agreed that the military strikes taken against the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons sites had been a success.

“The Prime Minister welcomed the public support which had been given by fellow world leaders for the strong stand the UK, France and the United States had taken in degrading Syria’s chemical weapons capability and deterring their use; defending global rules; and sending a clear message that the use of chemical weapons can never become normalised.”

6:14PM

Tusk backs Britain

European Council President Donald Tusk has spoken to May on the phone. They “have a shared assessment of the situation,” he said.

6:12PM

Assad’s chemical capabilities crippled

Mike Pence, the US Vice President, has said Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities have been “degraded and crippled” by the strikes.

4:58PM

UK: missile strikes were legally justified

The UK’s ambassador, Karen Pierce, says Britain met all three conditions in which to justify strikes.

France’s Ambassador to the UN, François Delattre, says that the suspected chemical attack on Douma called for a “strong response”.

“France has absolutely no doubt about the Assad regime’s accountability in the chemical attack [in Douma],” he said.

4:45PM

Haley attacks Russian fake news

Ms Haley told the chamber: “The US and its allies did everything we could to use diplomacy to get rid of Assad’s chemical weapons.”

“We gave diplomacy chance after chance,” she said, adding that Russia had blocked six attempts at action on Syria’s chemical weapons in the UN security council.

“We cannot stand by as Russia trashes every international norm that we stand for.”

4:36PM

Haley: US is ‘locked and loaded’

Ms Haley said: “We can all see that  a Russian disinformation campaign is in full force this morning. But we cannot change facts.”  But she said the victims of chemical weapons attacks in Douma were not “fake news”.

The UN ambassador stated that there is “clear” evidence showing the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, calling the action “barbaric inhumanity”.

The diplomat said at the heart of the allies “carefully planned” attack was a desire to minimise civilian casualties. “The US, France and the UK acted after careful evaluation of these facts,” she said. 

“We are confident that we have crippled Syria’s chemical weapons program.”

She added that America was “locked and loaded” to strike again if Mr Assad repeated the atrocities.

“If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded. When our president draws a red line, the president enforces the red line.”

4:33PM

Nikki Haley: ‘Strikes were legitimate’

Nikki Haley told the UN: “A week has gone by in which we have talked. We’ve spent a week talking about the unique horror of chemical weapons.

“The time for talk ended last night. We’re here because last night three permanent members of the security council acted.”

4:10PM

Strikes  ‘broke international law’ Russia tells UN

Russia’s UN Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Saturday. He told the chamber that Russia “condemns in the strongest possible terms” the military action in Syria.

“The US panders to the terrorists and the current situation is destructive,” he said.

“The US and its allies continue to demonstrate blatant disregard for international law.”

Mr Nebenzia told the chamber it was “shameful that the US constitution was cited as a reason to launch military action.

“It’s interesting what the UK and France will think when they realise they have broken international law while citing the US constitution.”

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, is due to address the security council shortly. She is expected to strongly rebuke Mr Nebenzia’s comemnts.

3:04PM

Footage shows destroyed chemical weapon research facility, Syrian state television says

Syrian state television has broadcast footage of what it claims are the ruins of a chemical weapons research centre near Damascus, Camilla Turner writes.

The images purport to show the damage to the Barzah research facilities following the US, British and French air strikes.

The footage, broadcast by Syria’s Al-Ikhbariya TV, shows piles of rubble outside a destroyed building as well as a burned out vehicle.

In some shots, smoke appears to be rising from the shattered remains of hollowed out structures.

The bombed out remains of the research facility in Barzah, as shown by Syrian state TV

The bombed out remains of the research facility in Barzah, as shown by Syrian state TV

Separate images from satellite technology appear to depict the multiple buildings that were bombed.

Read the full story.

2:53PM

‘2000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours’

Dana White, the Pentagon spokeswoman said there has been a “2000% increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours” as the Kremlin ramped up its “disinformation” campaign over the Syria strikes. 

2:45PM

‘It was mission accomplished’

Dana White, the Pentagon spokeswoman, has defended Mr Trump’s use of the phrase “mission accomplished” in a tweet – words George W Bush infamously used after the Iraq invasion in 2003. 

She said: “We hit the heart of the chemical weapon programme so it was mission accomplished.”

2:13PM

Pentagon: ‘Every target hit’

The Pentagon confirmed on Saturday that the US, UK and French forces “successfully hit every target” in Friday night’s strike. 

“We do not seek conflict in Syria, but we cannot allow such grievous violations of international law,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters.

“We successfully hit every target,” she said. “The strikes were justified, legitimate and proportionate.”

Pentagon officials said that 105 missiles had been fired in the strike at the three targets. 

They said that the Syrians had shot 40 missiles into the air in response but mostly after the strike was complete – and that to the best of their knowledge “no Syrian weapon had any effect on anything we did”. 

The Pentagon said that they believed Russia did not fire any missiles in response to the attack. 

Officials said they were not aware of any casualties. 

Ms White said they were “very confident” to have “significantly crippled” Assad’s ability to produce chemical weapons. 

“This is about values. We did this because it’s intolerable for any civilised nation to tolerate the use of chemical weapons,” she said.

Pentagon image showing air strikes on Syria

Pentagon image showing air strikes on Syria

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr, the director of joint staff, said he would pick three words to describe the attack: “Precise, overwhelming and effective”. 

He said the US was ready for any military retaliation from Syria and its allies. 

“We’re ready for it. … We’re on the balls of our feet and we’re ready for anything,” he said. 

1:47PM

Images reportedly showing damage to the Barzah research facilities following the air strikes

Barzah

1:22PM

Donald Trump: ‘Mission accomplished!’

Mr Trump is adopting a phrase that a previous president came to regret – “mission accomplished.”

In May 2003, President George W. Bush stood on an aircraft carrier under a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner and declared that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” – just six weeks after the invasion.

In this May 2, 2003 file photo, President George W. Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast

In this May 2, 2003 file photo, President George W. Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast

Credit:
AP

But the war dragged on for many years after that and the banner became a symbol of U.S. misjudgments and mistakes in the long and costly conflict. Bush was heavily criticised for the move.

After shifting explanations, the White House eventually said the “Mission Accomplished” phrase referred to the carrier’s crew completing its 10-month mission, not the military completing its mission in Iraq.

Bush, in October 2003, disavowed any connection with the “Mission Accomplished” message. He said the White House had nothing to do with the banner; a spokesman later said the ship’s crew asked for the sign and the White House staff had it made by a private vendor.

12:42PM

Corbyn says he wants proof of legal justification for air strikes

12:41PM

OPCW: fact-finding mission to Syria to go ahead this weekend

A global chemical warfare watchdog group says its fact-finding mission to Syria will go ahead even after the US-led airstrikes.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says in a statement that its team will stick to its plan to investigate last weekend’s suspected poison gas attack in Douma.

The group says the mission “will continue its deployment to the Syrian Arab Republic to establish facts around the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma.”

Russia and Syria disagree with Western allies that gas was used by Assad’s forces to suppress opposition close to Damascus in an April 7 attack.

12:15PM

Iran’s supreme leader says Western attack on Syria a crime

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said an attack on Syria by the United States, France and Britain on Saturday was a crime and would not achieve any gains.

“Today’s dawn attack on Syria is a crime. I clearly declare that the president of the United States, the president of France and the British prime minister are criminals,” Khamenei said in a speech, according to his Twitter account.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei 

“They will not benefit (from the attack) as they went to Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan in the past years and committed such crimes and did not gain any benefits,” Khamenei said.

Iran – the dominant Shi’ite Muslim power which is in rivalry with Saudi Arabia and the United States’ other Sunni Arab friends – has fought decades of sectarian proxy wars in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

11:46AM

Saudi says strikes on Syria retaliation for regime ‘crimes’

Saudi Arabia on Saturday expressed its full support for US-led strikes on Syrian government military installations, saying they were a response to “regime crimes” against civilians.

“Saudi Arabia fully supports the strikes launched by the United States, France and Britain against Syria because they represent a response to the regime’s crimes,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, said the strikes were prompted by the “Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, including women and children”.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have been key backers of Syrian opposition groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

11:41AM

Analysis: ‘Western air strikes a painless way out of a tense spot for Vladimir Putin’

Alec Luhn reports from Moscow:

The Western strikes on Syria looked like a fairly painless way out of a tense spot for Vladimir Putin on Saturday, with Russia claiming minimal damage to its ally and no apparent danger of the situation spiraling out of control.

Judging from reports in the Russian media this week, Moscow’s most pressing concern in the run-up to the airstrikes was to obtain advance warning, including coordinates of targets, so that Russian troops would not suffer casualties and force it into an unpredictable escalation.

Now that the French defence minister has said Paris and its allies warned Moscow in advance, it appears it received the information it wanted—and passed it along to Damascus. Speaking to Al Jazeera, a Syrian official claimed that it had gotten “early warning of the strike from the Russians” and evacuated the military bases that were hit.

At a briefing on Saturday, the Russian defence ministry couldn’t resist a little boast, claiming that 71 of 103 missiles were intercepted, but insisted it was Soviet-made Syrian air defence systems, not Russian ones, that had come into direct conflict with the West.  It claimed that Syrian troops and civilians had not borne any casualties, and damage to infrastructure was limited.

Mr Putin condemned the strikes as expected, but his words were more tempered than some of the Kremlin’s previous rhetoric on Syria.

“History will put everything in its place,” he said in a statement, adding that Russia will call an urgent session of the United Nations security council to “discuss the aggressive actions of the United States and its allies”.

Despite the more or less positive outcome for Russia, the defence ministry threatened to reconsider giving advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria and other allies in light of the strikes. Russia cancelled a shipment of such missiles under Western pressure in 2013.

10:52AM

China says Syrian strikes violate international law

China’s foreign ministry has said that it believes a political settlement is the only way to resolve the Syrian issue and called for a full, fair and objective investigation into suspected chemical weapon attacks in Syria.

Hua Chunying, the ministry’s spokeswoman, made the comments at a press conference according to a transcript posted on its website. US, British and French forces struck Syria with more than 100 missiles on Saturday in the first coordinated Western strikes against the Damascus government.

Hua said that China has consistently opposed the use of force in international relations and that any military action that bypassed the United Nations’ Security Council violated the principles and basic norms of international law.

10:44AM

Cyprus says had no prior briefing of Syria strikes

Cyprus distanced itself on Saturday from Britain’s air strikes on Syrian targets, saying it had no prior briefing or involvement in the action launched from a British sovereign air base on the Mediterranean island.

Four Royal Air Force Tornado jets from the Akrotiri base in Cyprus fired Storm Shadow missiles at a military facility near Homs where it was assessed that Syria had stockpiled chemicals, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.

“Cyprus did not have any participation in this operation and conditions of full security exist in our country,” Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou said in a statement.

“The Authorities of the Republic of Cyprus have been monitoring the situation from the first moment, however, Cyprus did not receive any prior briefing,” he said.

Neither the airspace of Cyprus, or its flight information region – a huge swathe of eastern Mediterranean airspace – was used, he said.

“We hope that it will subsequently be possible for military operations to be avoided in Syria and that sources of danger in this neighboring country will be addressed with peaceful means and through dialogue.”

Britain retains two sovereign bases in Cyprus, a colony until independence in 1960. There are about 3,100 British troops on the island.

A fighter jet prepares to land at RAF Akrotiri, a military base Britain maintains on Cyprus

A fighter jet prepares to land at RAF Akrotiri, a military base Britain maintains on Cyprus

Credit:
Reuters

10:39AM

France has ‘solid intelligence’ that Assad regime behind chemical attacks

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, has now told BFM TV that France has “solid intelligence” that the Assad regime was behind the chemical weapons attacks and a “large part” of its chemical weapons arsenal has been destroyed, David Chazan reports from Paris.

Asked which chemical weapons were used in the attack that prompted the strikes, Mr le Drian said chlorine was certainly used and other substances were being analysed.

Mr Le Drian said the French president would go ahead with his visit to Moscow at the end of May as planned.

Syrian government supporters wave Syrian, Iranian and Russian flags as they chant slogans against U.S. President Trump during demonstrations following a wave of U.S., British and French military strikes

Syrian government supporters wave Syrian, Iranian and Russian flags as they chant slogans against U.S. President Trump during demonstrations following a wave of U.S., British and French military strikes

Credit:
AP

10:20AM

EU meeting to be dominated by use of chemical weapons 

Boris Johnson will meet with European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday at a meeting to dominated by the strikes on Syria, James Crisp reports from Brussels. 

Through the weekend, British diplomats and ministers will be in touch with their EU counterparts to lay the groundwork for discussion over Friday night’s air strikes. EU Ministers are expected to back language condemning the use of chemical weapons in the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council. 

Before the joint US-UK and French attack, London and Paris was pushing to toughen up the language of the draft joint statement, which will decry the use of chemical weapons and the greying of the international line against their use. Those efforts are continuing. 

The debate among ministers will include discussion over the strike but also how to prevent the use of chemical weapons in the future and secure a ceasefire in Syria. 

Mr Johnson can expect support from other EU member states such as Belgium and the Netherlands. 

The meeting was always going to be important for Britain as it is the first Foreign Affairs Council after Theresa May secured EU support for condemning Russia for the Salisbury attack.

The Telegraph understands the conclusions will take a tougher line on Russia and Iran than the statement agreed by EU leaders on March 21. 

This will not include sanctions at this stage but there is likely to be language stating that option remains on the table. 

10:17AM

Russia may consider supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

In response to the Western strikes, Russia is threatening to give Syria and other allies its advanced S-300 surface-to-air missiles, Alec Luhn reports from Moscow.

Colonel-General  Sergei Rudskoi: “A few years ago, considering the insistent requests of some of our Western partners, we decided not to deliver S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Syria. Considering what has happened, we think it’s possible to once again consider this question, and not just for Syria, but other countries”

S-300 long range surface-to-air missile systems seen during a rehearsal of a Victory Day military parade commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany

S-300 long range surface-to-air missile systems seen during a rehearsal of a Victory Day military parade commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany

Credit:
Getty

10:00AM

Russia military says Syria air defence intercepted 71 of 103 cruise missiles

The Russian military has said that Western allies fired 103 cruise missiles including Tomahawk missiles at Syria but that Syrian air defence systems managed to intercept 71 of them.

“All together, 103 cruise missiles were deployed,” senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi said at a briefing in Moscow. “Seventy-one cruise missiles were intercepted.”

Russia's senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi sits bellow a map of Syria screened during a briefing at the Russian Defence Ministry headquarters in Moscow on April 14, 2018

Russia’s senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi sits bellow a map of Syria screened during a briefing at the Russian Defence Ministry headquarters in Moscow on April 14, 2018

Credit:
AFP

9:53AM

Vladimir Putin condemns airstrikes on Syria

The Russian president condemned the overnight US-led missile attack on Syria and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, the Kremlin has said.

Mr Putin said the US actions in Syria made the humanitarian catastrophe worse and caused pain for civilians, as well has damaging international relations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia November 20, 2017

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) welcomes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia November 20, 2017

Credit:
Reuters

9:49AM

Germany’s Merkel backs air strikes on Syria as ‘necessary and appropriate’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed air strikes by the United States, France and Britain as a “necessary and appropriate” action to warn Syria against further use of chemical weapons.

“We support the fact that our American, British and French allies have taken responsibility in this way as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council,” Merkel said. Merkel this week had said Germany would not take part in any military action against Syria.

9:30AM

Theresa May: UK ‘confident’ of success of strikes

The Prime Minister has said she is “confident” that the strikes succeeded in degrading Assad’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks and in deterring their future use. She said the strikes were and “limited and targeted” and not intended to spark further conflict.

The Prime Minister said the Douma attack had caused “harrowing” scenes of innocent civilians foaming at the mouth.

Mrs May said all the indications were that it was a chemical weapons attack and the Government was “clear” Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible.

She said open source material showed barrel bombs had been used and a regime helicopter had been seen over Douma on April 7.

The PM added: “No other group could have carried out this attack.”

9:09AM

Jeremy Corbyn: strikes are ‘legally questionable’

 Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said the military action against Syria was  “legally questionable” and makes real accountability for war crimes less  likely. 

 Mr Corbyn said Britain should not be taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm’s way.

Jeremy Corbyn said the military strikes in Syria were "legally questionable"

Jeremy Corbyn said the military strikes in Syria were “legally questionable”

Credit:
REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

He said:

“Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace. 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.”

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat leader, also said Mrs May should have gone to Parliament for a vote before launching strikes. 

8:36AM

Defence secretary: strikes “highly successful”

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that last night’s air strike against the Syrian regime was “a highly successful mission”.

Speaking to presenter John Humphrys, he said: “The reason we have taken this action is because we all saw the images last week of the suffering that had been inflicted on innocent men, women and children, and there has been a need to act.

“That’s why last night we deployed four Tornados armed with Storm Shadow cruise missiles. You will be pleased to hear all of those crews have returned safely and every early indication is that is has been a highly successful mission.

“This is something we have been in discussion with the US and French over the last few days but obviously the meeting of Cabinet is where this was properly discussed.”

Mr Williamson said the service personnel involved in last night’s attack have played “an important role in terms of degrading the Syrian regime in using chemical weapons in the future”.

7:53AM

Regime lives to fight another day

The Syrian regime knew there was little it could do to stop the incoming barrage of Western missiles. But it also knew that the hours afterwards would be crucial in terms of reassuring its own base. 

As well as posting a video of Assad going to work as normal, the regime has organised “spontaneous” demonstrations on the streets of Damascus. Soldiers and regime supporters paraded with the red-and-black Syrian government flag. 

 The message they are trying to send is clear: the regime is stable and it lives to fight another day. 

7:41AM

Russia: Missiles intercepted by air defences

Russia’s defence ministry said on Saturday that the majority of missiles fired during the overnight attack on Syria by US, British and French forces were intercepted by Syrian government air defence systems, TASS news agency reported.

Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has responded angrily to the strikes, while Syrian state media called them a “flagrant violation of international law.”

More than 100 missiles were fired from ships and manned aircraft, and the allies struck three of Syria’s main chemical weapons facilities, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford said.

According to Interfax news agency, Russia’s defence ministry also said that Syria intercepted the US and allied attacks using Soviet-produced hardware, including the Buk missile system. 

7:29AM

Assad off to work

Video has emerged apparently showing President Bashar al-Assad going to work as normal.

7:22AM

Reaction in Britain

UK forces have been engaged in “gesture bombing with no major international consensus”, the Scottish National Party spokesman for defence said.

Stewart McDonald wrote on Twitter: “Most worrying, is that she has acted at the behest of presidential tweets and sidelined parliament.

“What does this new bombing campaign do to help move Syria towards peace? Nothing.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he welcomed the military strikes on Syria.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said questions remained about how peace can be brought to Syria.

Writing on Twitter, she said: “My first thoughts this morning are with service personnel called to action”.

6:47AM

MoD releases images of attack

The Ministry of Defence has released images and footage of the strike on a chemical weapons facility.

6:46AM

France: Russia was warned ahead of strikes

France’s defence minister says its joint military operation with the US and Britain against Syria targeted three sites and that Russia was informed ahead of time.

Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters on Saturday that the French military sent fighter jets from multiple bases in France and used missile-equipped frigates in the Mediterranean in the operation. 

She said strikes targeted the “main research center” for the Syrian chemical weapons program and “two important production sites.”

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

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the operation did not target Syria’s allies or civilians but President Bashar Assad’s government because of its alleged use of chemical weapons. Syria’s government denies using them.

6:19AM

Syrians take to streets after attacks

Hundreds of Syrians are demonstrating in a landmark square of the Syrian capital, waving victory signs and honking their car horns in a show of defiance

Syrians wave Russian and Syrian flags during a protest against U.S.-led air strikes in Damascus

Syrians wave Russian and Syrian flags during a protest against U.S.-led air strikes in Damascus

Credit:
Reuters

In Damascus, the president’s seat of power, hundreds of residents gathered in Omayyad Square, many waving Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags. Some clapped their hands and danced, others drove in convoys, honking their horns.

“We are your men, Bashar,” they shouted.

State TV broadcast live from the square where a large crowd of civilians mixed with men in uniforms, including an actor, lawmakers and other figures.

“Good morning steadfastness,” one broadcaster said.

5:34AM

Democrats warn Trump over Syria

Mr Trump’s announcement of airstrikes in Syria triggered swift warnings from opposition Democrats that any broader military campaign there would require a well-formulated strategic vision – and authorisation from Congress.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led calls for the US president to map out a detailed plan and present it to Congress if he wants to expand military action.

“One night of air strikes is no substitute for a coherent strategy,” Ms Pelosi said in a statement.

Mr Trump “must come to Congress to obtain a new AUMF (authorization for use of military force), present a clear set of objectives, & ultimately hold Putin accountable for the bloodshed he has enabled,” she added, referring to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, the Syrian regime’s most powerful ally.

US military forces have largely been operating under AUMFs passed by Congress shortly after the 9/11 attacks to conduct operations against extremist groups like the Islamic State, including in Syria.

Some Democrats like Senator Tim Kaine, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2016, said although last week’s deadly apparent chemical attack was an abomination, Trump’s air strikes were illegal.

“The last thing Congress should be doing is giving this president a blank check to wage war against anyone, anywhere. We need to put clear limits in place before he starts another war,” said Kaine.

“Today, it’s a strike on Syria – what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?”

5:05AM

Western allies back strikes

International reaction has started coming in, with Western allies backing the military action.

The head of NATO expressed his support for strikes in Syria after bombings targeting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack.

“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.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau also backed the strikes. 

4:47AM

David Miliband responds

David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, has issued this response to the strikes.

“Now that the US, France and the UK have decided on their reaction to the use of chemical weapons last weekend, the need for a diplomatic offensive is more imperative than ever. Military action is only ever successful when it is part of a political strategy, for peace-making, humanitarian aid and regional security. Bombing cannot substitute for diplomacy, military reactions a substitute for a peace plan. Syrian civilians need urgent humanitarian aid to relieve poverty, Syria’s neighbors need support for the refugees they are housing.”

4:35AM

Trump ‘can be called Adolf Hitler’

A highly placed Russian politician is likening President Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler after the launch of airstrikes against Syria, and says he regards the action as a move against Russia.

Alexander Sherin, deputy head of the State Duma’s defense committee, says Trump “can be called Adolf Hitler No. 2 of our time – because, you see, he even chose the time that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union.”

That’s according to state news agency RIA-Novosti. The Nazi forces’ opening attack against the USSR in 1941 was launched around 4 a.m.

4:13AM

Syria’s response

Syrian state media has slammed Western strikes as illegal and “doomed to fail”.

“The aggression is a flagrant violation of international law, a breach of the international community’s will, and it is doomed to fail,” said state news agency SANA.

State media published images of a cloud of reddish smoke hanging over the capital and said that air defences were activated to block the attack.

Smoke rises after airstrikes targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus

Smoke rises after airstrikes targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus

Credit:
AP

SANA reported the joint operation hit a research centre northeast of the capital as well as other military installations around Damascus, but said missiles targeting army depots in Homs had been intercepted.

It said skies were clear over Aleppo in the north, Hasakeh in the northeast, and Latakia and Tartus along the western coast, where key Syrian and Russian military installations are located.

3:57AM

Details of US strikes

The US Pentagon announced that three sites used by the Syrian regime for the “research, development and deployment” of chemical weapons had been targeted, writes Ben Riley-Smith

One target was a scientific facility in the greater Damascus area which had been involved in researching and testing chemical weapons. 

Two targets were near the city of Homs. Both were chemical weapons storage facilities, one had also been used as a command post. 

The Damascus sky lights up with service to air missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria

The Damascus sky lights up with service to air missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria

Credit:
AP

The sites had been chosen to minimise civilian casualties and avoid Russian troops stationed on the ground in the country.  James Mattis, the US defence secretary, announced that the strike was a “one-time” attack designed to deter Assad from using chemical weapons again. 

He said that the strikes were over during the briefing, meaning at most the attack lasted around an hour and 10 minutes.  Mr Mattis said that twice as many missiles were used than last year’s US attack on a Syrian regime airfield, meaning more than 100 missiles were fired.  Russia was not warned before the air strikes were launched and there was no explicit coordination over the attack, a Pentagon official said.

An explosion on the outskirts of Damascus 

An explosion on the outskirts of Damascus 

Credit:
AFP

A US-Russia “deconfliction line” to avoid crashes over Syrian airspace was used, the official said, but he stressed it is used most days.  The Pentagon also confirmed that Syria had used surface-to-air missiles to counter the attack. 

Mr Mattis said: “Right now, this is a one-time shot, and I believe it has sent a very strong message to dissuade [Assad], to deter him from doing this again.” It is unclear how that comment matches with Mr Trump’s earlier statement that the US was prepared to “sustain” pressure on the Assad regime. 

US media have also reported that the US Congress was notified just minutes before the attack was launched.  Mr Mattis also said that the Trump administration was confident chlorine had been used in the original Douma attack, but said they were not sure that Sarin gas had been used.

3:46AM

Russia responds angrily

Russia’s embassy in the US has issued its response to the airstrikes, saying “such actions will not be left without consequences”.

3:18AM

First wave of strikes over

The Pentagon has said the first wave of airstrikes are over.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said no additional strikes on Syria were planned:

“Right now this is a one-time shot”, he saud, adding  there were “no reports of losses” on the part of the US and its allies.

 He called on the international community to “urgently” unite and bring an end to Syria’s civil war.

“It is time for all civilized nations to urgently unite in ending the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations backed Geneva peace process,” Mattis said.

3:12AM

Williamson describes strikes as  ‘legal and proportionate military force’

Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, has issued a statement.

“The reprehensible use of chemical weapons in Douma is further evidence of the Syrian regime’s appalling cruelty against its own people. We will not stand by whilst innocent civilians, including women and children, are killed and made to suffer.

“The international community has responded decisively with legal and proportionate military force. Let these united actions send a clear message to the regime – the use of chemical weapons is categorically unacceptable and you will be held to account.”

2:58AM

Blasts in Damascus

Several huge explosions have been heard in Syria’s capital.

Consecutive blasts were heard at 4:00 am local time (0100 GMT), followed by the sound of airplanes overhead. Smoke could be seen emerging from the northern and eastern edges of the capital.

Syrian state television simultaneously reported a US attack on Syria, in coordination with France and Britain.

“Syrian air defence blocks American, British, French aggression on Syria,” state television said.

2:55AM

Details of airstrikes

The Ministry of Defence [MOD] revealed some details of UK involvement in the strikes in a statement released 45 minutes after Mr Trump addressed the nation spoke. 

Four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s launched Storm Shadow missiles at a military facility and former missile base some 15 miles west of Homs. 

An MoD spokesman said the Syrian regime “is assessed to keep chemical weapon precursors stockpiled” at the facility, breaching the Chemical Weapons Convention.  The spokesman added:

“Very careful scientific analysis was applied to determine where best to target the Storm Shadows to maximise the destruction of the stockpiled chemicals and to minimise any risks of contamination to the surrounding area. 

“The facility which was struck is located some distance from any known concentrations of civilian habitation, reducing yet further any such risk.”

2:54AM

Macron issues statement

French President Emmanuel Macron said late on Friday that France had joined the US and Britain in an ongoing operation against Syria with strikes 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.

2:23AM

Statement from the prime minister

Theresa May has issued a statement on the Syrian airstrikes. 

Here it is in full.

This evening I have authorised British armed forces to conduct co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.

We are acting together with our American and French allies. In Douma, last Saturday a chemical weapons attack killed up to 75 people, including young children, in circumstances of pure horror.

The fact of this attack should surprise no-one. The Syrian Regime has a history of using chemical weapons against its own people in the most cruel and abhorrent way. And a significant body of information including intelligence indicates the Syrian Regime is responsible for this latest attack.

This persistent pattern of behaviour must be stopped – not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons.

We have sought to use every possible diplomatic channel to achieve this. But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted. Even this week the Russians vetoed a Resolution at the UN Security Council which would have established an independent investigation into the Douma attack.

So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Regime. This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change. It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

And while this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian Regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity. At this time, my thoughts are with our brave British servicemen and women – and our French and American partners – who are carrying out their duty with the greatest professionalism.

The speed with which we are acting is essential in co-operating with our partners to alleviate further humanitarian suffering and to maintain the vital security of our operations. 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. We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion there is none.

History teaches us that the international community must defend the global rules and standards that keep us all safe. That is what our country has always done. And what we will continue to do.

2:11AM

A ‘sustained’ response

Mr Trump said U.S., allies were prepared for a “sustained” response until Syrian government stops use of chemical weapons. 

He added that the strikes were a  ‘direct result’ of Russia’s failure to keep Syria’s Assad from using chemical weapons. 

2:04AM

Trump has ordered strikes

Donald Trump has announced he has ordered military action against Syria, in co-ordination with Britain and France. 

1:59AM

Trump ‘approves military action’

US media outlets are reporting that Trump has approved air strikes against Syria.

1:54AM

Trump set to make statement 

The New York Times is reporting that Donald Trump is set to make an announcement about Syria in about 10 minutes from the White House.

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