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Russia condemns US airstrikes on Syria as world reacts

April 14, 2018

The ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has slammed the US for its joint airstrikes in Syria, as has Iran. Though the UN called on participants in the regional conflict to show restraint, others welcomed the strike.

A Syrian soldier waves a flag during a protest against airstrikes in Damascus, Syria
Image: Reuters/O. Sanadiki

Hundreds of pro-government Syrians took to a main square in Damascus Saturday morning in a show of defiance against the US, French and British airstrikes launched the night before. Many honked horns and waved the Syrian flag along with those of the Syrian government's allies, Russia and Iran, as these two countries roundly condemned the precision air attacks as violations of international law. 

While the airstrikes have raised international alarm over a possible escalation of regional military conflict, some Middle Eastern nations, as well as international organizations, voiced their support for the US-led air action.

Read more: Why Syria is not the Cuban missile crisis of 2018

Russia warns of 'consequences'

As a key supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia slammed the joint strikes in the hours following the attacks.

In a Saturday morning statement, the Kremlin strongly expressed its disapproval: "Russia severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military are helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the attacks would only aggravate the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Middle Eastern nation. He also reiterated calls by other Russian officials for a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

A French fighter jet lands at a military base
A French fighter jet prepares to land at a British base in Cyprus, one day after France joined the US and UK in airstrikes in SyriaImage: Reuters/Y. Kourtoglou

Russia, France, the UK and the US are all permanent members of the Council, along with China. 

The Russian government's response came after the Russian ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, warned that the airstrikes "will not be left without consequences." 

The Russian government described the decision by the US, the UK and France to target military and research sites in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack as a violation of international law. 

Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, said the airstrikes in Syria were "an attack on a sovereign state without an underlying basis."

Read more: Konstantin Kosachev: 'US [action in Syria] is a strong violation of international law'

The US administration under Donald Trump has increasingly laid blame at Russia's door for failing to prevent the Syrian government's use of chemical weapons on civilians. But Moscow, and Syria as well, has accused the West of staging last week's chemical attack in Douma as a means of justifying military action.

On Saturday, Kosachev also criticized the timing of joint airstrikes in Syria, accusing the US, France and the UK of hindering the investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that was slated to begin this weekend. 

Konstantin Kosachev on Conflict Zone

Syrian government: 'Brutal, barbaric aggression'

In keeping with its backer, Russia, the Assad government described the joint airstrikes as "a flagrant violation of international law, a breach of the international community's will."

The Syrian Foreign Ministry denounced the action as "brutal, barbaric aggression" and said it was an attempt to hinder the OPCW's work and pre-empt its results, Syrian state media reported. 

Iran: 'Adventurist action'

The Islamic Republic joins its fellow Assad supporter, Russia, in criticizing the timing of the US-led attack.

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described the airstrikes as a "crime" in remarks published over the Telegram social messaging service. He added that, "The American president, the French president and the British prime minister are criminals."

Iran's Foreign Ministry also issued a statement.

"The United States and its allies have no proof and, without even waiting for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to take a position, have carried out this military attack," the ministry said. It added that while Iran opposes the use of chemical weapons, it "strongly condemns [using this] as an excuse to commit aggression against a sovereign state."

Tehran has argued that last week's alleged chemical weapons attack is being used to try and undermine recent pro-government military success.

The ministry warned of "regional consequences of this adventurist action" and said that the involved Western nations would be responsible.

Israel and Turkey welcome strikes

Other regional actors involved in the Syria conflict expressed approval for the US, UK and French strikes.

The government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has opposed the Assad regime, described the joint airstrikes as an "appropriate response to the chemical attack" in Douma.

"We welcome this operation which has eased humanity's conscience in the face of the attack in Douma, largely suspected to have been carried out by the regime," a statement from the Foreign Ministry said, adding that Assad "has a proven track record of crimes against humanity and war crimes."

Turkey said it had been informed of the strikes ahead of time. Tensions between the country and the United States, its NATO ally, had grown recently over Ergodan's military incursion into the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region in northern Syria.

However, the Erdogan government has also worked with Iran and Russia to try and find a solution to the seven-year-long conflict in Syria.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

Israeli officials also applauded the US-led strikes, stating that they send an "important signal" to Iran, Syria and the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

"The use of chemical weapons crosses a red line that humanity can no longer tolerate," Yoav Gallant, a retired Israeli general and member of the government's political–security cabinet, wrote on Twitter.

Hezbollah, meanwhile, praised the Syrian air defense and warned that US military action would prove fruitless.

"The war that America is waging against Syria, against peoples of the region and resistance and liberation movements will not realize its goals," the organization that supports the Assad government said in a statement.

Stoltenberg: All NATO allies back Syria airstrikes

International organizations and alliances mixed

The US, the UK and France are all members of the NATO military alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg voiced strong support for the three nations' joint airstrikes in a statement early on Saturday.

The strikes "will reduce the regime's ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons," his statement read, adding that the use of such weapons "calls for a collective and effective response by the international community."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he had been following the reports of airstrikes closely. He delayed a planned trip to Saudi Arabia in their aftermath and called for restraint in a statement.

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

He added that nations must "act consistently with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law in general," and particularly on issues of peace and security.

Guterres has called for the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria to be investigated.

Additionally, international human rights organization Amnesty International said that the British, French and American airstrikes should "minimize harm to civilians." It also called directly on the US to take in refugees who have fled the violence in Syria.

"The Trump administration must not turn its back on the suffering of men, women, and children by continuing to ban refugees from entering the United States."

cmb/jlw (Reuters, AP, AFP)