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US, France, Britain launch strikes on Syria

AFP  |  Damascus 

The United States, Britain and carried out a wave of strikes against Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime today in response to alleged attacks that branded the "crimes of a monster."

As Trump embarked on a address to announce the action - taken in defiance of Russian warnings - explosions were heard in the Syrian capital Damascus, signalling a new chapter in a brutal seven-year-old civil war.

An in the city heard consecutive blasts at 4:00 am (local time), followed by the sound of airplanes overhead. Smoke could be seen rising from the northern and eastern edges of the capital.

After dawn, Syrians draped in government flags descended on the heart of the capital in a show of defiance against the strikes.

Trump said he had ordered US forces to launch precision strikes "on targets associated with the capabilities of Syrian dictator "

He said a combined operation had been launched with the forces of Britain and France, whose leaders have rallied behind Trump's call for a response to an alleged on the town of a week ago that rescuers and monitors say killed more than 40 people.

"This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of use by that very terrible regime," Trump said. "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."

Joseph Dunford, Washington's top general, said the strikes hit targets near and in province including a scientific research centre, storage facilities and a command post.

Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries had attempted to fire back, but there were no initial reports of losses, he added.

Syrian said air defences were activated to block the attack and published images of smoke clouds hanging over the capital.

At the rally in central Damascus, 48-year-old claimed to have seen US 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."

Syria's foreign ministry denounced the strikes as a "brutal, barbaric aggression" and suggested they were aimed at "hindering" the work of inspectors from the due to start in later today.

The strikes were a marked escalation compared with a US strike following a a year ago, when only cruise missiles were used against a single airfield.

said no additional strikes were planned. "Right now this is a one-time shot," he said.

Dunford said Russia's forces in had been warned through existing "deconfliction" channels that Western planes would be in Syrian air space, but had not revealed the target sites or timing in advance.

Trump also warned and not to stand by their ally in "must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilised nations as a force for stability and peace," he argued.

Russia's defence ministry said more than 100 cruise missiles and air-to-land missiles had been fired and that "a significant number" were shot down.

It said that none of the Western strikes in had hit areas covered by Russia's air defences around its and naval facility in Tartus.

The strikes had been expected since harrowing footage surfaced of the aftermath of the attack in Douma, which prompted a furious reaction from Trump.

Trump's anger was shared by France's Emmanuel Macron, who signed his country up for a joint response.

"We cannot tolerate the normalisation of the use of chemical weapons," Macron said in a statement.

said fired cruise missiles from frigates in the and deployed fighter jets from home bases as part of its strikes.

Britain's defence ministry said that four British Tornado jets had fired Storm Shadow missiles at a base 15 miles (25 kilometres) west of city.

"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," said, referring to a recent assassination attempt on a Russian double agent.

In the days between the attack in and the US-led response, and clashed repeatedly in duelling statements and debates.

denied Assad had any role in the alleged attack, pushing a variety of alternative theories that peaked with a claim that Britain staged the event. At the United Nations, Russia's diplomats vetoed a US motion to re-establish an international investigation into chemical weapons use in Syria that could have established blame.

Washington, and have nevertheless insisted that their own secret intelligence points to Assad's guilt, and yesterday, a US said they had "proof." The Western leaders apparently found this a convincing enough reason to launch a punitive strike, but other observers are concerned the crisis could escalate.

The had vowed to respond to any attack, and Russian Vladimir Putin's administration had repeatedly warned that Trump was taking down a dangerous path.

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

First Published: Sat, April 14 2018. 13:20 IST