World

Trump, allies praise Syria strikes as Moscow seethes

But Russia slams 'aggressive actions'

WASHINGTON US President Donald Trump and his British and French allies on Saturday hailed the joint strikes in Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons, warning Damascus that any repetition would be met with renewed firepower.

Hours later, the allies signalled their resolve to return to diplomacy, launching a new bid at the United Nations (UN) to investigate the chemical weapons attacks.

They circulated a joint draft resolution at the Security Council that also called for unimpeded deliveries of humanitarian aid and enforcement of a ceasefire and demands that Syria engage in UN-led peace talks, according to the text obtained by AFP.

The narrowly targeted pre-dawn military operation, which took aim at three alleged chemical weapons facilities, earned quick scorn from Russia, but a push by Moscow for condemnation of the strikes at the Security Council fell far short.

The strikes were in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack a week ago on the rebel-held town of Douma that left more than 40 people dead.

Washington believes both sarin and chlorine were used in the April 7 attack, a senior US administration official told reporters on Saturday.

Both Syria's President Bashar Al Assad and its ally Russia have denied all responsibility.

Moscow slammed the "aggressive actions" of the Western coalition but has not yet responded militarily.

US ambassador Nikki Haley warned her UN counterparts that although the mission was designed as a one-off, that did not preclude further action against Mr Assad.

"I spoke to the president this morning and he said: 'If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded," Ms Haley said at emergency Security Council talks.

Negotiations on the draft resolution put forward by the US, France and Britain are set to begin today.

Among the contentious proposals, it would establish an independent investigation into allegations of toxic gas attacks in Syria with the aim of identifying the perpetrators.

NEGOTIATIONS

Diplomats said it remained unclear when the council would vote on the proposal, and they were ready to allow time for negotiations to bring Russia aboard.

Just before dawn on Saturday, the sounds of massive explosions and the roar of warplanes rang out across Damascus for about 45 minutes.

"A perfectly executed strike last night," Trump tweeted early on Saturday.

"Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!"

The targets included a scientific research facility near Damascus, and two chemical weapons facilities outside the city of Homs, the US military said, though reports said the buildings had been evacuated in recent days.

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

Mr Assad responded to the strikes with a defiant vow, declaring: "This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country."

Ahmad, a 25-year-old mechanic who had been displaced from Douma, said the Western strikes were nevertheless too little, too late.

"Assad won't collapse. They'll bomb for a day or two and then the regime will take it out on us," he said. - AFP

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