Syrian Air Strikes: Russia's stance left allies no option, says Nato chief

Syrian Air Strikes: Russia's stance left allies no option, says Nato chief
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaking in Brussels today. Pic: AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Update 6.40pm: Russian efforts to veto UN action against Syria left US, British and French allies no option but to launch airstrikes against key installations, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

After a debriefing of Nato ambassadors by the three allies on Saturday, Mr Stoltenberg said that "before the attack took place last night, Nato allies exhausted all other possible ways to address this issue to the UNSC by diplomatic and political means".

He added: "But since this was blocked by Russia, there was no other alternative."

Mr Stoltenberg said: "I am not saying that the attacks last night solved all problems but compared to the alternative to do nothing this was the right thing to do."

He said all 29 Nato members backed the airstrikes as a consequence of the country conducting a suspected chemical attack against its civilians last weekend.

The strikes were about making sure that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity, he added.

But Russia branded the airstrike an act of "hooliganism" and called for a vote on a UN resolution to condemn "the aggression" against Syria.

The resolution is certain to be defeated in the UN Security Council when it is put to a vote later Saturday at the end of an emergency meeting called by Russia.

It demands that military action stop "immediately and without delay".

Update 6pm: Trump, May and Macron hail military strikes 'a success'

Theresa May, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron agreed the military strikes in Syria "had been a success" during telephone conversations this afternoon, a Downing Street spokesman said.

A Downing Street spokesperson 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."

Update 5.40pm: Russian UN Ambassador says missile strike was 'act of aggression'

Russia's Ambassador to the UN has said that the Syrian Air Strikes was an "act of aggression" and international experts had not completed their tests.

Vassily Nebenzia. Pic: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Vassily Nebenzia. Pic: AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

"In a sign of cynical disdain a group of Western countries decided to take military action without waiting for the results of the investigation," said Russia’s UN Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia.

"Russia condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack against Syria."

Nato Secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said he had been briefed by the UK, France and the US and had "no reason to doubt" the intelligence.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, he said: "Before the strikes took place last night, Nato allies exhausted all other possible ways to address this issue through the UN Security Council by diplomatic and political means.

"Since this was blocked by Russia there was no other alternative than to react the way they reacted at this time."

He added: "Compared to the alternative of doing nothing, this was the right thing to do."

Update 5pm: UN Secretary General calls for 'restraint in these dangerous circumstances'

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, its secretary general, Antonio Guterres, called for "restraint".

He said: "I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate matters and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people."

Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said the response followed a "well tried" pattern of provocation, "mendacious" accusation, verdict and punishment.

He said: "This is hooliganism in international relations, and not minor hooliganism given that we are talking about major nuclear powers."

US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, pointed out the meeting was the fifth this week on Syria.

"The time for talk ended last night," she said.

She said President Trump had told her that if there was further use of chemical weapons by Assad's regime, the United States was "locked and loaded".

UK ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce
UK ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce

Meanwhile in the UK, No. 10 has said that the legal case for military action has been met

Airstrikes in Syria met international laws for military action on humanitarian grounds, according to No 10 documents setting out the legal case.

In a summary of the advice given by UK Attorney General Jeremy Wright to British Prime Minister Theresa May, Downing Street pointed the finger at Moscow over its role in leading the UK and its allies to decide to launch an attack on Bashar Assad's regime.

It said international action to alleviate suffering caused by chemical weapons had been repeatedly blocked by Syria's allies.

Diplomatic action, sanctions, and the US strikes against the Shayrat airbase in April 2017 have failed to sufficiently degrade Syria's chemical weapons capability, the document added.

"There was no practicable alternative to the truly exceptional use of force to degrade the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability and deter their further use by the Syrian regime in order to alleviate humanitarian suffering," the paper said.

UK ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce insisted the Government was "certain" of its legal case.

The No 10 paper said the UK met three demands under international law - that there is convincing evidence of extreme humanitarian distress, there is no practicable alternative to the use of force, and the action is necessary and proportionate - had been met.

It said: "In these circumstances, and as an exceptional measure on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity, military intervention to strike carefully considered, specifically identified targets in order effectively to alleviate humanitarian distress by degrading the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability and deterring further chemical weapons attacks was necessary and proportionate and therefore legally justifiable.

"Such an intervention was directed exclusively to averting a humanitarian catastrophe caused by the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons, and the action was the minimum judged necessary for that purpose."

Update 2.46pm: Mission Accomplished - Trump uses phrase that haunted Bush

As he declared the US-led airstrikes against Syria a success, President Donald Trump adopted a phrase that a previous president came to regret - "mission accomplished".

On Saturday, President Trump tweeted: "A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. 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.

But the war dragged on for many years after that and the banner became a symbol of US misjudgments and mistakes in the long and costly conflict.

President Bush was heavily criticised for the move.

George W Bush.
George W Bush.

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.

President 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.

Former White House press secretary Dana Perino said in 2008: "We have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner."

Update 2.25pm: 'Mission Accomplished' in Syria, Trump declares

US President Donald Trump declared it was "mission accomplished" after the overnight bombing campaign in Syria.

And he thanked the UK and France "for their wisdom and the power of their fine military".

President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Friday, April 13, 2018, in Washington, about the United States' military response to Syria's chemical weapon attack on April 7. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Friday, April 13, 2018, in Washington, about the United States' military response to Syria's chemical weapon attack on April 7. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Britain launched cruise missiles as part of the co-ordinated military operation with the United States and France in response to the chemical weapons attack in Douma one week ago.

Mr Trump said the joint strikes against the Syrian regime were "perfectly executed".

He added: "Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished."

Theresa May insisted that joining the military campaign was the "right thing for us to do" in the wake of the "harrowing" assault on the Syrian rebel-held town.

The Prime Minister also warned Russia that the air strikes should act as a warning to Russia over its use of chemical weapons.

Speaking at Number 10, Mrs May said action was "legal" and defended the decision to go ahead without securing the backing of Parliament.

But she was accused of "riding the coat-tails of an erratic US president" by the Liberal Democrats, and "taking instructions" from Washington by Labour.

Four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s joined the co-ordinated missile strikes at 2am, launching Storm Shadow missiles at a base 15 miles west of Homs.

The Prime Minister said the Cabinet had taken advice from the Attorney General, National Security Adviser and military chiefs when it met on Thursday.

She added:

We agreed that is was both right and legal to take military action together with our closest allies.

Number 10 is expected to put out a summary of the advice it received later on Saturday, Downing Street sources said.

Mrs May said "it was right we acted the way that we did" for operational security reasons to help protect the military.

Syrian president Bashar Assad.
Syrian president Bashar Assad.

She insisted the action against Bashar Assad's regime was a limited and targeted strike to degrade and deter the Syrian government and was not about regime change.

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

Looking drawn as she spoke to reporters in Downing Street in a hastily arranged press conference, she said: "We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised - either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere."

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

An emergency session of the UN Security Council, called by Russia, will meet at 4pm UK time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strikes were an "act of aggression" that would have a "destructive" influence on international relations.

Asked if the action had also been 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."

Jeremy Corbyn said the military action against Syria was "legally questionable" and makes real accountability for war crimes less likely.

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."

Mrs May has faced criticism from across the political spectrum for failing to recall Parliament and put the plans to a vote.

The Prime Minister said she will go before the Commons on Monday to answer questions about her decision but insisted there was no "alternative path".

On Friday, Russian military chiefs claimed they had evidence the UK had directed the attack in Douma using the White Helmets, a group of humanitarian volunteers on the ground.

Mrs May said the accusation was "grotesque and absurd" as she criticised Russia for vetoing at the UN calls for an independent investigation.

The PM did not rule out further action if Syria continues to use chemical weapons.

Mr Trump said the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons on Douma was a "significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime".

Following the announcement, the US said strikes had been launched at 9pm EST (2am BST) and had destroyed important infrastructure at three sites connected with the Syrian regime's chemical weapons programme.

General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the first was at a scientific research centre in greater Damascus, involved in the development and production of chemical warfare.

Other strikes targeted an army depot near Homs.

Update 12.15pm: France warns of further air strikes if chemical weapons used again

France's foreign minister has threatened further missile strikes against Syria if Bashar Assad's government uses chemical weapons again.

France joined the United States and Britain in a joint operation to destroy what French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said is a "good part" of the Syrian government's chemical weapons arsenal.

He said France has "no doubt" that the Syrian government was behind a suspected chemical attacks last weekend. Syria denies responsibility.

French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Mr Le Drian told BFM television that the goal for the allied mission had been attained, but that if France's "red line" is crossed again there could be another attack.

Earlier, the French government said it has no samples of the chemical weapons it believes were used in Syria, but launched its military response based on open-source information and intelligence gathering.

France has released its assessment of what happened in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 - which was the basis for France's involvement in the joint military operation with the US and UK.

The assessment cites "the absence to date of chemical samples analysed by our own laboratories". It said the government evaluated publicly available information from nongovernmental organisations and other sources as well as unspecified French intelligence.

It concludes that there is "no plausible scenario other than that of an attack by Syrian armed forces".

The assessment notes eight chlorine attacks ahead of the "major attack" on Douma and 44 allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria over the past year.

Meanwhile, Germany's chancellor said the air strikes are a "necessary and appropriate" response to the attack on Douma.

Angela Merkel said the US, Britain and France "took responsibility in this way as permanent members of the UN Security Council".

Mrs Merkel said the strikes were needed "to maintain the effectiveness of the international rejection of chemical weapons use and to warn the Syrian regime against further violations".

She had said earlier this week that Germany would not join allied military action against Syrian government forces.

The European Commission's president said those who rely on chemical warfare must be held to account by the world.

Jean-Claude Juncker said the suspected use of poison gas last week in the Syrian city of Douma was - as he puts it - a "heinous chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime".

Mr Juncker said the world "has the responsibility to identify and hold accountable those responsible" for that kind of attack.

Update 10.30am: Syrian air strikes are a warning to Russia - Theresa May

Air strikes in Syria should act as a warning to Russia over its use of chemical weapons, Theresa May has said.

The Prime Minister insisted that military action against Bashar Assad's regime was a limited strike in response to the "harrowing" chemical weapons attack in Douma and was not about regime change.

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

Prime Minister Theresa May during a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London on the air strikes against Syria. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
Prime Minister Theresa May during a press conference in 10 Downing Street, London on the air strikes against Syria. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

Looking drawn as she spoke to reporters in Downing Street in a hastily arranged press conference, she said: "We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised - either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere."

President Vladimir Putin has said Russia will call an emergency session of the UN Security Council over air strikes on Syria.

Asked if the strikes had also been a warning to Russia, the PM 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."

Mrs May said chemical weapons had "all too often" been used in recent times.

"I think it is right that the international community has come together and said we will not accept this," she added.

The UK, United States and France launched "precision strikes" in Syria overnight.

US President Donald Trump announced the "combined operation" on Friday night and Mrs May spoke soon afterwards to explain her decision.

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

Mrs May has faced criticism from across the political spectrum for failing to recall Parliament and put the plans to a vote.

The Prime Minister said she will go before the Commons on Monday to answer questions about her decision but insisted there was no "alternative path".

Mr Trump said the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons on Douma was a "significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime".

Following the announcement, the US said strikes had been launched at 9pm EST (2am BST) and had destroyed important infrastructure at three sites connected with the Syrian regime's chemical weapons programme.

General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the first was at a scientific research centre in greater Damascus, involved in the development and production of chemical warfare.

Other strikes targeted an army depot near Homs.

Update 9.40am: Putin: Aggression by US and allies will worsen Syrian humanitarian catastrophe

Russian president Vladimir Putin has denounced an air strike on Syria by the United States and its allies as an "act of aggression" that will exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophe in the country.

In a statement issued by the Kremlin, the Russian leader said Moscow is calling an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council over the strike launched by the US, Britain and France.

Mr Putin added that the strike had a "destructive influence on the entire system of international relations".

Vladimir Putin.
Vladimir Putin.

He reaffirmed Russia's view that the purported chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma that prompted the strike was a fake.

Mr Putin added that Russian military experts who inspected Douma found no trace of a chemical attack. He criticised the US and its allies for launching the strike without waiting for inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog to visit the area.

Meanwhile, the Russian military said Syria's Soviet-made air defence systems have downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the US and its allies.

Col Gen Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military's General Staff said Saturday's strike has not caused any casualties, and Syrian military facilities targeted by the US, UK and France have suffered only minor damage.

He said the Russian air defence assets in Syria monitored the strike but did not engage any of the missiles.

Col Gen Rudskoi said the Syrian military used Soviet-era air defence missile systems with high efficiency, shooting down all of the missiles aimed at four key Syrian air bases.

He noted that Russia has in the past refrained from providing Syria with its state-of-the-art S-300 air defence missile systems at the insistence of the West, but could reconsider this decision now.

Earlier: US, Britain and France launch air strikes as allies punish Syria for 'despicable' Douma attack

A series of missile strikes have been launched against Syria by the US, UK and France in response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma a week ago.

The strikes began at 2am BST and destroyed important infrastructure at three sites connected to the Syrian regime's chemical weapons programme, according to the allies.

President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Friday, April 13, 2018, in Washington, about the United States' military response to Syria's chemical weapon attack on April 7. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Friday, April 13, 2018, in Washington, about the United States' military response to Syria's chemical weapon attack on April 7. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US Defence Secretary James Mattis said double the number of weapons were used in the strikes compared with the 2017 Shayrat missile strike which involved 59 US Tomahawk cruise missiles and was launched in response to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack.

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

Syria's main backer Russia, which has insisted there was no chemical weapons attack in Douma and accused the West of fabricating evidence of it, was not informed of the strikes in advance.

Damascus sky lights up with service to air missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as U.S. President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Damascus sky lights up with service to air missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the Syrian capital Damascus, Syria, early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as U.S. President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Announcing the operation, Prime Minister Theresa May said there was "no practicable alternative to the use of force".

Mrs May said "every possible diplomatic channel" had been explored before authorising the strikes, adding that it was not a decision she had taken lightly.

She said: "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.

"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."

US President Donald Trump said the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons on Douma last Saturday was a "significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime".

Giving a statement at the White House, Mr Trump said: "This evil and despicable act left mothers and fathers and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air.

"The combined American, British and French response will integrate all instruments of our national power."

Mrs May said the action would also send a "clear signal" to anyone else who believed they could use chemical weapons "with impunity".

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."

Mrs May authorised the strikes despite demands from opposition parties that Parliament was consulted before any military action was launched.

But the Prime Minister said she had authorised the operation "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," she added.

Damascus is seen as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as U.S. President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Damascus is seen as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as U.S. President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

French president Emmanuel Macron said there was no doubt the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical attack in Douma.

He said: "We cannot tolerate the trivialisation of the use of chemical weapons, which represent an immediate danger for the Syrian people and for our collective security.

"The red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed."

There was no immediate military response from Moscow but Russian politicians reacted angrily, with one MP likening Mr Trump to Adolf Hitler.

General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that the first of the allied strikes on Saturday was at a scientific research centre in greater Damascus involved in the development and production of chemical weapons.

The second was at a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, while the third was at a chemical equipment storage facility and important command post.

He added: "Important infrastructure was destroyed which will result in a set-back for the Syrian regime. They will lose years of research and development, storage and equipment."

Four Royal Air Force Tornados contributed to strikes, launching Storm Shadow missiles at the target 15 miles west of Homs in a "successful attack", the Ministry of Defence said.

RAF Tornados taking-off on a sortie at RAF Akrotiri to conduct strikes in support of Operations over the Middle East. A series of missile strikes have been launched against Syria by the US, UK and France in response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma a week ago. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.
RAF Tornados taking-off on a sortie at RAF Akrotiri to conduct strikes in support of Operations over the Middle East. A series of missile strikes have been launched against Syria by the US, UK and France in response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma a week ago. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

The MoD said the Syrian regime was "assessed to keep chemical weapon precursors stockpiled in breach of Syria's obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention" at the site.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "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."

General Dunford said the strike had inflicted maximum damage without unnecessary risk to civilians.

Asked if the US and its allies would continue military operations, he said: "That will depend on Mr Assad should he decide to use more chemical weapons in the future, and of course the powers that have signed the Chemical Weapons Prohibition (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) have every reason to challenge Assad should he choose to violate that.

But right now this is a one-time shot and I believe that it sent a very strong message to dissuade him, to deter him from doing this again.

Mr Mattis said the US remained in "close consultation" with its allies, adding: "We review the evidence all the time. But right now we have no additional attacks planned."

He also praised the "level of trust" between the US, UK and France, saying: "These allies, the American, the French, the British, we have operated together through thick and thin, through good times and bad, this is a very, very well integrated team.

"Wherever we operate, we do so with complete trust in each other, but more than that the belief that one another will be there when the chips are down. It's a statement about the level of trust between our nations."

- PA

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