UN Warns Against Escalation Over Syria

The UN chief has urged Security Council members to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people
The Damascus sky lights up by missile fire, April 14. (Photo: Hassan Ammar, AP)The Damascus sky lights up by missile fire, April 14. (Photo: Hassan Ammar, AP)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for efforts to prevent an escalation in Syria late on Friday evening just hours after the United States, France and Britain launched airstrikes on the Arab country.“There’s an obligation, particularly when dealing with matters of peace and security, to act consistently with the Charter of the United Nations and with international law in general. The UN Charter is very clear on these issues,” Guterres said in a statement issued by his spokesperson, UN News reported.

“The Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. I call on the members of the Security Council to unite and exercise that responsibility. 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 joint operation by the US and its allies was in response to a suspected chemical attack in the city of Douma last week. UN partner the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has deployed a fact-finding mission to the area.

Guterres deplored the use of chemical weapons, which he described as “abhorrent”.

Earlier on Friday, the UN chief had called on the Security Council to create an independent body to determine who had used chemical weapons in Syria.

Last October, the council failed to renew the mandate of a UN-OPCW body, known as the Joint Inspection Mechanism, which was established three years ago.

“I have repeatedly expressed my deep disappointment that the Security Council failed to agree on a dedicated mechanism for effective accountability for the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” his statement said. “I urge the Security Council to assume its responsibilities and fill this gap.”

  One Time Shot

US President Donald Trump announced the military action from the White House, saying the three allies had “marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May described the strike as “limited and targeted” and claimed she had authorized the British action after intelligence indicated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for an attack using chemical weapons in Douma last Saturday, Reuters reported.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the strikes had been limited so far to alleged chemical weapons facilities.

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

The targets included a Syrian center in the greater Damascus area, as well as two facilities near the city of Homs.

Mattis called the strikes a “one time shot,” but Trump raised the prospect of further strikes.

  Russian Response

The strikes risked raising tensions in an already combustible region, but appeared designed not to trigger a military response from Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the strikes as an “act of aggression” that will exacerbate humanitarian catastrophe in Syria, Aljazeera reported.

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

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

He reaffirmed Russia’s view that a purported chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma that prompted the strike was a fake. Putin stressed that Russian military experts who inspected Douma found no trace of the attack.

He criticized the US and its allies for launching the strike without waiting for inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog to visit the area.

Russia’s ambassador to the US warned that there would be consequences for the attacks. “A pre-designed scenario is being implemented,” Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov said on Twitter.

“Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.”

Later on Saturday, the Syrian presidency posted a video that appeared to show Assad arriving for work hours after the strike.

“The morning of resilience,” declared a caption accompanying the video circulated on the presidency’s Telegram feed.

“The barbaric aggression ... will not affect in any way the determination and insistence of the Syrian people and their heroic armed forces,” state news agency SANA cited an official source in the Syrian foreign ministry as saying.

“This aggression will only lead to inflaming tensions in the world” and threatens international security, the source added.

  Absorbed the Strike

At least six loud explosions were heard in Damascus and smoke was seen rising over the city, a Reuters witness said. A second witness said the Barzah district of Damascus had been hit in the strikes. Barzah is the location of a major Syrian scientific research center.

A senior official in a regional alliance that backs Damascus told Reuters the Syrian government and its allies had “absorbed” the attack, and that targeted sites were evacuated days ago thanks to a warning from Russia.

Syrian TV said Syrian air defenses shot down a number of missiles fired in the attack. The Russian defense ministry said none of the rockets launched had entered zones where Russian air defense systems are protecting military facilities in Tartus and Hmeimim.

  Regime Change Not on Agenda

The combined US, British and French assault appeared more intense than a similar strike Trump ordered almost exactly a year ago against a Syrian air base in retaliation for an earlier alleged chemical weapons attack that Washington attributed to Assad.

At a Pentagon briefing, Dunford said the airstrikes on Saturday were planned to minimize the risk of casualties among Russia’s forces in Syria.

Theresa May said the missile strike was designed to minimize any civilian casualties and was not an attempt to change the Syrian government. Britain’s defense ministry said initial indications were that the precision weapons and meticulous target planning had “resulted in a successful attack”.

Mattis, who US officials said had earlier warned in internal debates that too large an attack would risk confrontation with Russia, described the strikes as a one-off.

 Trump Still Wants Syria Exit   

Trump has been leery of US military involvement in the Middle East, and is eager to withdraw roughly 2,000 troops who are in Syria as part of the battle against the self-styled Islamic State militants.

The airstrikes, however, risk dragging the United States further into Syria’s civil war, particularly if Russia opts to retaliate.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria, under no circumstances,” Trump said in his eight-minute address.

Last year, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the guided missile destroyers USS Porter and the USS Ross that struck the Shayrat air base.

The targets of that strike included Syrian aircraft, aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage facilities, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems and radar. At the time, the Pentagon claimed that a fifth of Syria’s operational aircraft were either damaged or destroyed.

The US-led attack on Syria will be seen as limited if it is now over and there is no second round of strikes, said a senior official in the regional alliance that has supported Assad in the Syrian war.

“If it is finished, and there is no second round, it will be considered limited,” the official told Reuters.

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