Syria strikes – as it happened: Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons capability 'set back for years' by bombing, Pentagon says

UK

Joint air strikes by the US, UK and France have set back Syria’s chemical weapons capability “for years”, the US military said.

Cruise missiles were fired at three sites in response to what Theresa May called the “despicable and barbaric” attack in Douma last week that is believed to have killed up to 75 people.

Ms May said Bashar al-Assad could face even further strikes if chemical weapons are used again – and the US warned that they were “locked and loaded” if poison used again.

US President Donald Trump declared “mission accomplished” after more than 100 missiles were collectively launched in the early hours of the morning.

During telephone conversations on Saturday afternoon, Ms May, Mr Trump and Emmanuel Macron all agreed that the military strikes in Syria “had been a success”.

Downing Street published a document setting out why it believes military action against the Syrian regime was legal after Jeremy Corbyn described the action as legally questionable. 

The Russian embassy in the US said it had warned that such actions would “not be left without consequences”, adding that insulting President Vladimir Putin was “unacceptable and inadmissible”.

On Saturday afternoon, the UN Security Council rejected Russia’s draft resolution condemning “aggression” against Syria by the US and its allies.

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Live Updates

2 days ago

Good morning, welcome to The Independent‘s live blog on the mounting tensions surrounding the crisis in Syria. 
Theresa May and Donald Trump have agreed the use of chemical weapons must not go unchallenged after the prime minister won the backing of her cabinet on the need to “take action” to prevent their further use by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. 
Meanwhile, Russia has been granted a request for the United Nations Security Council to meet on Friday for fresh discussions on Syria.

2 days ago

Cabinet agrees on need to ‘take action’ in Syria

Theresa May’s cabinet has agreed on the need to “take action” to deter the use of chemical weapons in Syria, ahead of an expected military strike on regime targets.  Downing Street said an “international response” would be coordinated with allies France and the US, to show that the use of toxic weapons in the Middle Eastern country’s civil war would not be tolerated.

2 days ago

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the Government of ‘waiting for instructions’ from Donald Trump on what to do over Syria.
The Labour leader said: “Further UK military intervention in Syria’s appalling multi-sided war risks escalating an already devastating conflict.
“The Government appears to be waiting for instructions from President Donald Trump on how to proceed. But the US administration is giving alarmingly contradictory signals.
“Even US defence secretary James Mattis has said we ‘don’t have evidence’ and warned further military action could ‘escalate out of control’.”
Mr Corbyn added: “Ministers should take their proposals, such as they are, to parliament. And Britain should press for an independent UN-led investigation of last weekend’s horrific chemical weapons attack so that those responsible can be held to account.
“Rather than further military action, what is urgently needed is a coordinated international drive to achieve a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement under UN auspices. The humanitarian priority must be to halt the killing on all sides.
“The need to restart genuine negotiations for peace and an inclusive political settlement of the Syrian conflict, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces, could not be more urgent. We must do everything we can, no matter how challenging, to bring that about.”

2 days ago

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It would be outrageous for the government not to bring military action in Syria to Parliament, for Parliament to have a vote. And the Tories used to think like that.
“The reason they are not doing it is they are frightened they will lose the vote.”
Pressed on whether there were any circumstances in which Labour would back military action in Syria, Ms Abbott said: “What we are interested in is an end to the violence and we don’t believe that further bombing, in this situation, will bring an end to the violence.”
When she was asked if Russia or the US posed the greatest threat to world peace, Ms Abbott said: “It’s clear that at this point Russia, its role in Syria, what we believe, beyond reasonable doubt, is its role in the poison gas attacks in Salisbury, is a greater threat to world peace than the United States.” 

2 days ago
2 days ago

Referring to Donald Trump’s tweets, Russia’s deputy prime minister said international relations should not depend on the mood of one person when he wakes up in the morning, the RIA news agency reported.
Arkady Dvorkovich said Russia was not prepared for such risks.

2 days ago

Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Islamist militant group, does not believe a direct US-Russia clash or wider all-out war will occur over Syria, its deputy leader said in a newspaper interview published on Friday.
Sheikh Naim Qassem told Lebanese daily al-Joumhouria: “The conditions do not point to a total war happening… unless Trump and Netanyahu completely lose their minds,” referring to Donald Trump and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

2 days ago

West ‘must avert danger of war’ over Syria chemical attack, says Russia

The Russian ambassador to the United Nations has urged the US and its allies not to take military action over the apparent chemical attack in Syria, saying the immediate priority was to “avert the danger of war”. International tensions have spiked over the attack, with Washington holding Russia partially culpable for what they believe is the use of chemical weapons on the town of Douma by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

2 days ago
2 days ago

Here are the full quotes from Russia’s deputy prime minister, Arkady Dvorkovich, who said international relations should not depend on the mood of one person when he wakes up in the morning, in apparent reference to President Trump.
“We cannot depend on the mood of someone on the other side of the ocean when he wakes up, on what a specific person takes into his head in the morning,” Mr Dvorkovich said, according to the TASS news agency.
“We cannot take such risks.”
In an early-morning tweet on Wednesday, Mr Trump warned missiles “will be coming” in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces. Russia is Syria’s most important military ally in the country’s civil war.
In another tweet on Thursday, Mr Trump appeared to cast doubt on at least the timing of any US-led military action. “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” it said.

2 days ago

Three Syrian men accused of membership in Islamic extremist groups have been arrested in Germany.
Two of the men are accused of being members of Isis.
One of them is believed to have tried to recruit people in Germany to fight in Syria’s civil war. 
Police and prosecutors said the men, who entered Germany as asylum-seekers in 2015, were arrested on Thursday in Saarlouis, near the French border.
Authorities said Friday a refugee home employee tipped officials off after recognizing one suspect in a video that showed him in uniform with weapons. 
Officials accuse the 23-year-old of membership in the Ahrar al-Sham group and say he tried to recruit fighters over the internet.
His alleged accomplices, 21 and 27, are accused of having belonged to Isis. 
Authorities say there’s no evidence the three planned attacks in Europe. 

2 days ago

Labour shadow cabinet minister backs Syria intervention and tells Corbyn to stop commenting on foreign policy

Labour’s shadow international development secretary has unexpectedly backed intervention in Syria and called for Bashar al-Assad to be removed as president. As Britain gears up to support the US in strikes against the Assad regime, Kate Osamor insisted “intervention must take place” if evidence suggests government forces used chemical weapons against civilians. She also said the Syrian president “needs to be removed”, although she admitted “it’s not as easy as that”.

2 days ago

The German government has said it would do all it could to maintain political pressure on Russia over the suspected use of chemical weapons in Syria,
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said “serious evidence” pointed to the use of such weapons in violation of international law, and said Germany remained in close touch with the United States and other allies over how to respond.
Maria Adebahr. a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said Germany agreed with its allies the use of chemical weapons must not go unpunished.
She said it was clear not all chemical weapons had been destroyed in Syria in a process which began in 2013. 

2 days ago
2 days ago

Russia’s foreign minister has asserted the suspected chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma last weekend was fabricated with the help of an unspecified foreign intelligence agency. 
Sergey Lavrov said Russian experts have inspected the site of the attack and found no trace of chemical weapons.
He said Moscow has “irrefutable information that it was another fabrication”. 
He said “intelligence agencies of a state that is now striving to spearhead a Russo-phobic campaign were involved in that fabrication”. 
He did not elaborate or name the state, but seemed to be hinting at the United States, Britain or France.

2 days ago

The Russian embassy in the UK said it is “concerned” about cabinet’s decision to “take action“.
“The preparations are being made despite lack of evidence as regards to what happened on the ground in British interpretation,” it said. 
“At the request of the Syrian Government the OPCW sent a fact-finding team to Douma. The experts will arrive tomorrow. Syrian authorities will provide all the relevant security guarantees. Russia is ready to assist in ensuring its safety. We are interested in seeing independent experts there, so they can make all the necessary tests without delay.
“The conditions on the ground, now that the Russian military police is present in Douma, are appropriate for conducting investigation of the alleged incident. Russian services for chemical and radiological security visited the suspected site of the incident and did not find any traces of chemical substances. No persons treated for chemical poisoning were found in local hospitals.
“We took note of the recent statement of the UK Permanent Representative to the UN Karen Pierce, calling the idea of an investigation ”an offer worth pursuing“. What is striking is that the UK statements in favour of an independent investigation clearly contradict those automatically laying the blame on the Syrian government.
“At the same time we receive worrying reports about London pressing ahead with preparations for the military action against Syria.
“Military strikes may be used to cover up all the evidence, or lack thereof, on the ground. Such a decision, if it’s taken, in violation of the international law and the Charter of the United Nations may well mark the latest in the series of the reckless military adventures by the UK.
“The infamous aggression against Iraq in 2003 immediately comes to mind, when the then-Prime Minister Tony Blair deliberately misinformed the Parliament and the public. It is well known how it ended – with Chilcot inquiry delivering a condemnatory verdict. It’s essential to avoid any steps which could escalate the tensions.”

2 days ago

Boris Johnson has said said it was “very important that the use of chemical weapons should not go unchallenged”.
Asked if the UK was being dragged along by the US on Radio 1 Newsbeat, the foreign secretary said: “We will be working with friends and partners to make sure, if we possibly can, that the use of chemical weapons does not go unchallenged, that we deter further humanitarian catastrophes caused by the use of such weapons.”

2 days ago

Russia has been spying on the Skripals for at least five years, Britain claims

Russian intelligence agencies were spying on Sergei and Yulia Skripal for at least five years before they were targeted with a nerve agent, Britain has said. In a letter to Nato, the National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill revealed that they were the subject of “interest” from the Kremlin’s security services since 2013. He said email accounts belonging to Ms Skripal had been targeted by cyber specialists with Russia’s GRU intelligence agency, where her father was a colonel while passing secrets to Britain as a double agent.

2 days ago

UK military action in Syria would mark the latest in a series of reckless military adventures by the UK if it was taken in violation of international law, Russia’s ambassador to the UK said.
Alexander Yakovenko said Russia is concerned by the decision of Theresa May’s cabinet to “take action” against Syria.

2 days ago

Turkey’s prime minister, Binali Yildirim, has said the use of chemical weapon against civilians in a Damascus suburb is “unforgivable” but said Turkey is urging all sides to refrain from actions which would cause further turmoil in Syria.
Mr Yildirim again condemned the “heinous” the attack in Douma and said the perpetrators should “pay a price.” 
“However… any action that would lead to the failure or harm activities led by Turkey, Iran and Russia toward a lasting peace should be avoided,” he said. He was referring to the three countries’ efforts to reduce violence in Syria. 

Russia and Syria claimed most of the missiles, numbering about 110, were intercepted, while the Pentagon said Syrian defences had “no effect” on the operation.

Mr Assad, backed also by Iran, said on Saturday the bombings would increase his country’s resolve to “fight and crush terrorism”.

Ms May said she had authorised British forces to conduct precision strikes against Syria to help degrade its chemical weapons capability.

“This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change,” Ms May said in a statement. “It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.”

RAF Tornado jets bombed a chemical weapons facility 15 miles outside Homs, the Ministry of Defence said.

Russia warned of “consequences” for the US-led military strikes, saying the use of missiles on suspected chemical weapons assets were an insult to Vladimir Putin.

“A pre-designed scenario is being implemented,” Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov said in a statement. “Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.”

Earlier, Russia’s military claimed to have evidence that Britain had “direct involvement” in staging the suspected chemical attack in Syria, a charge quickly condemned as “grotesque” by the UK.

Humanitarian volunteers were “seriously pressured” by the UK to speed up plans for a “provocation” in eastern Ghouta, Moscow’s defence ministry suggested.

Britain’s ambassador to the UN condemned the “blatant lie” as “the worst piece of fake news we’ve yet seen from the Russian propaganda machine”.

Later, a spokesman for the UK Foreign Office said: “These accusations from Moscow are just the latest in a number of ludicrous allegations from Russia, who have also said that no attack ever happened.

Emmanual Macron says France has proof the Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons in Syria

“This simply shows their desperation to pin the blame on anyone but their client: the [President Bashar] Assad regime

It comes as Russia and the United States traded fresh blows during the latest round of talks at the UN Security Council and amid warnings that the world is at risk of “full-blown military escalation”.

The State Department said the United States has proof at “a very high level of confidence” that the Syrian government of Mr Assad carried out the attack but is still working to identify the mix of chemicals used.

“Syria is responsible. We are all in agreement,” department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

Additional reporting by agencies

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