Assad calls Syria airstrikes act of 'American aggression'

By Daniel Uria  |  April 15, 2018 at 1:16 PM
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April 15 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described U.S.-led airstrikes against the country as an act of aggression during a meeting with Russian lawmakers Sunday.

Russian lawmaker Dmitry Sablin said Assad spoke highly of Russia's missile defense weapons during the meeting in Damascus, describing them as superior to those used by the United States and its allies, according to Russia's TASS news agency.

"Yesterday we saw the American aggression, and we were able to counter it with Soviet missiles manufactured in the 1970s," Sablin quoted Assad as saying.

Russia's Ministry of Defense said Syria's air defense systems intercepted 71 out of 105 missiles launched at three sites in Syria early Saturday morning local time in the airstrikes carried out by the United States, Britain and France in response to concern Assad's forces carried out a chemical attack against civilians in the rebel-held town of Douma last weekend that killed more than 70 people.

"The American films have shown since the 1990s that Russian-made weapons are 'backward.' However, today we can see who is really lagging behind," Assad said of the Russian response to the attack.

After the airstrikes U.S. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he hadn't seen any indication that Russian air defense systems were used, calling Syria's response "indiscriminate" and mostly futile.

"No Syrian weapon had any effect on what we did," McKenzie said.

Also Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the phone, and they agreed that the airstrike on Syria seriously damages the prospects for a political settlement in the country.

"Vladimir Putin, in particular, stressed that if such actions, carried out in violation of the U.N. Charter, continue, it will inevitably lead to chaos in international relations," the press service of the Kremlin said.

The United States and its allies said Sunday there are no plans for further attacks against Syria, but warned additional chemical attacks could prompt military response.

U.S. President Donald Trump again praised the decision to carry out the airstrikes in a tweet on Sunday, reiterating that the missiles had delivered on their intended purpose.

"The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished.' I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!" Trump wrote.

Appearing on Fox News Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a military context the president's declaration of "mission accomplished" refers only to the "task currently in front of you" and the United States will continue to monitor Assad's use of chemical weapons and are prepared to respond with further action in the form of additional military action.

"We of course know that our work in Syria is not done," Haley said. "We know that it is now up to Bashar al-Assad on whether he's going to use chemical weapons again. And should he use it again, the president has made it very clear that the United States is locked and loaded and ready to go."

Haley also said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will announce new sanctions against Russia for its support for Syria's chemical weapons program Monday.

"You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down," she said. "They will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use. I think everyone is going to feel it at this point. I think everyone knows that we sent a strong message, and our hope is that they listen to it."

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the BBC the primary purpose of the attack was to "say no to the use of barbaric chemical weapons."

Johnson added there was no proposal in place for further attacks, but if Assad's regime were to repeat chemical attacks "clearly, with allies, we would study what the options were."

After the airstrikes, Syrian armed forces carried out at least 28 strikes in the countryside of Homs and Hama followed by artillery shelling of civilian areas, according to the Syrian Civil Defense volunteer rescue organization, also known as the White Helmets.

Renewed air raids were also carried out on civilians homes in the cities of DeirFoul and Qunaitrat, the organization said.

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