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Blasts shake Damascus as US and allies launch Syria strikes

AFP  |  Damascus 

The United States, Britain and carried out a wave of pre-dawn strikes against Syria's regime today in response to a suspected attack, lighting up the sky of as explosions shook the city.

Branding last week's the "crimes of a monster", US announced the action against Bashar al-Assad's regime in a address, defying fierce warnings from ally

A few minutes later, an in heard a series of huge blasts and residents rushed to their balconies. For around 45 minutes, explosions echoed and the sound of warplanes roared over the city, as flashes flared in the distance.

When dawn broke, plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the city's north and east.

In the biggest foreign military action so far against Syria's regime, Western officials said a barrage of cruise and air-to-land missiles hit what they said were sites linked to development.

The targets included a scientific research facility in the Damascus area, a storage facility west of the city of and a third location near that contained both a command post and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility, the said.

But while Trump's belligerent tweets this week seemed to raise the prospect of large-scale military action, Saturday's strikes were narrowly targeted and the facilities hit had reportedly been evacuated in recent days.

Syrian reported only three people injured and Russia's defence ministry said there were "no victims" among Syrian civilians and military personnel.

Trump said the strikes were a direct response to an alleged April 7 on the rebel-held town of that rescuers and monitors say killed more than 40 people.

"The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead," Trump said.

US called the strikes a "one-time shot" with no additional military action planned for now.

Assad, who has denied ever using chemical weapons and regularly denounces his opponents as "terrorists", responded to the strikes with a defiant vow.

"This aggression will only make and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country," he said in comments published by his office.

denounced the strikes as "aggressive actions" and called an emergency session of the

Assad's other key ally also denounced the attack, with supreme leader Ayatollah describing Western leaders as "criminals".

The targets appeared to steer well clear of any Russian personnel or equipment in Syria, where launched a military intervention in support of Assad in 2015.

The said the allies had fired 103 cruise missiles but that Syrian managed to intercept 71 of them.

At a rally in central Damascus, 48-year-old claimed to have seen missiles "being shot down like flies".

"Let them do what they want, kill who they want... History will record that shot down missiles -- and not just missiles. It shot down American arrogance."

The impromptu early morning rally saw crowds of people heading to the famed to show their support for Assad, waving government flags and blaring patriotic songs.

Inspectors with the were due later Saturday to start work on a probe into the events of April 7 in Douma, the last rebel-held pocket of the onetime opposition near Damascus.

The OPCW said in a statement after the strikes that its fact-finding mission would continue.

The group in control of said the suspected forced them to agree to a Russia-brokered evacuation deal, paving the way for to secure Eastern Ghouta.

Mohammad Alloush, a key member of Jaish al-Islam, said Saturday the Western strikes had not gone far enough.

"Punishing the instrument of the crime while keeping the criminal -- a farce," Alloush wrote on

Syrian reported that internal security forces had entered on Saturday and that the town would be secured within hours. The spectre of military strikes had hung over since Trump reacted furiously to harrowing footage that surfaced of the aftermath of the attack in Douma.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, April 14 2018. 19:30 IST