By Ali Kushki

U.S. draws Iran rebuke over missile attack on Syrian airfield  

April 7, 2017 - 12:41

TEHRAN – Iran has strongly condemned the U.S. for its missile attack on an airfield in Syria on Friday morning, warning that such unilateral measures will “strengthen failing terrorists” in the Syrian battlefield.

“We, while strongly condemning any unilateral military action and the missile attacks on Shayrat air base in Syria by U.S. warships, believe that such measures ...will strengthen failing terrorists and complicate the situation in Syria and the region,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Friday. 

“The Islamic Republic of Iran, as the biggest victim of chemical weapons in contemporary history, condemns any application of such weapons, regardless of their culprits and victims, and at the same time, considers it dangerous, destructive, and in breach of international law to use it as a justification for unilateral acts.”
 
An Iranian diplomat in Syria rejected news that families of the Iranian diplomatic team had moved to Southern Lebanon. 

Iran, coupled with Russia, are the main supporters of the Syrian government and have provided it with military and political backing since 2011. 

The U.S. on Friday fired dozens of cruise missiles at Shayrat air base from which it said a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched this week, the first direct military action Washington has taken against Syrian government forces in the six-year-old conflict.

Two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea, the USS Ross and the USS Porter, fired 59 Tomahawk missiles intended for the airfield in Homs province in western Syria, the Defense Department said. 

U.S. officials told NBC News that aircraft and infrastructure at the site were hit, including the runway and gas fuel pumps.

The attack comes in retaliation to a suspected chemical weapons attack on rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday, which the U.S. held the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as accountable for. 

On Wednesday, President Trump said the chemical weapons attack "crossed a lot of lines,” but offered no indication of any plans by his administration to respond to the attack. 

Russia, a main ally to al-Assad, rejected the accusation, saying that a bomb hit a chemical weapons depot controlled by the rebels. 

It took the Trump administration not too long to change status on Syria just a week after it called the current Syrian government a “political reality.” 

“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched. It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said in a statement after the missile attack.
 
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the strike did not mean the wider U.S. policy on Syria had changed.

"This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for," he told reporters. "I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status,” Reuters quoted Tillerson as saying.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said: "Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government's ability to deliver chemical weapons.” 

The Syrian army said the missile attack killed six people and caused extensive damage, adding it would respond by continuing its campaign to "crush terrorism" and restore peace and security to all of Syria.

A statement from the army command described the attack as an act of "blatant aggression", saying it had made the U.S. "a partner" of ISIS, the ex-Nusra Front and other "terrorist organizations".

The escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria immediately raised tension with Russia. 

Just hours after Trump announced he had ordered the attack, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strike had seriously damaged ties between Washington and Moscow.

"President [Vladimir] Putin regards the U.S. attacks on Syria as an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.

Also, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underscored on Friday that attack "was an "act of aggression under an absolutely false pretext."

"It is reminiscent of the situation in 2003, when the U.S., the United Kingdom with its few allies invaded Iraq without Security Council approval, in gross violation of international law," Lavrov said in Uzbekistan.

However, Pentagon spokesman Davis said in an official statement: "Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield."
Bloomberg reported that Russia has suspended a cooperation pact with the U.S. aimed at avoiding incidents between the two countries’ planes in the crowded airspace over Syria by establishing direct hotlines between their militaries.

Other countries have reacted to the attack differently. 

Saudi Arabia said it "fully supports" the strikes, adding that it was a "courageous decision" by President Trump in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons, according to Al-Jazeera. 

In a televised statement Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed Ankara’s support for the attack, highlighting that al-Assad must be removed ‘as soon as possible.” 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports the "strong and clear message" sent by the strikes.

Italy says the U.S. strikes on Syria were “proportionate”. 

The British government said it was informed in advance about U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, and firmly supports the American action.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office noted the action was “an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks.”

Meanwhile, French President Francois Hollande said he will convene an emergency defense meeting on Friday to discuss next steps in Syria after the airstrikes, as France tries to relaunch international peace negotiations for Syria. 

AK/PA 

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