Syria strikes – latest news: 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 has claimed.

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

The strikes were also designed to ”send a message to others” about the use of chemical weapons, she added, in a reference to the Salisbury attack last month for which the UK blames Russia. Ms May said Bashar al-Assad could face further strikes if chemical weapons are used again.

US President Donald Trump – who on Twitter declared “mission accomplished” – said the combined operation was part of a response that would be sustained until Syria stopped its use of chemical weapons, though his defence secretary said it was a “one-time shot”.

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15 mins ago

Theresa May, Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron have agreed that the military strikes in Syria were “a success” during separate telephone conversations this afternoon, Downing Street says.
The Prime Minister has welcomed the “public support” given by fellow world leaders, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
Here is our story about how world leaders responded to the air strikes last night.

How the world has responded to US-led coalition air strikes in Syria

A range of global leaders have responded to the US-led coalition air strikes in Syria that were orchestrated by the US, Britain and France in the early hours of Saturday morning. The offensive was staged in response to last week’s chemical attack in Douma, Syria, which is believed to have killed at least 75 people. 

39 mins ago

Comment here from our US editor, Andrew Buncombe.

59 mins ago

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg has said that he was briefed by the UK, France and the US and he had “no reason to doubt” the intelligence.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Stoltenberg said: “Before the strikes took place last night, Nato allies exhausted all other possible ways to address this issue through the UN Security Council by diplomatic and political means.

“Since this was blocked by Russia there was no other alternative than to react the way they reacted at this time.

“Compared to the alternative of doing nothing, this was the right thing to do.”

1 hour ago

The US, France and the UK will continue to seek a diplomatic solution, Ms Pierce added, which she said must include four elements:
  • Syria’s chemical weapons must be destroyed and their creation halted
  • The immediate “cessation of hostilities” and compliance with UN Security Council resolutions
  • Mr Assad’s government must return to talks in Geneva on a “substantive” basis
  • “There must be accountability for the use of chemical weapons and other war crimes”
The Security Council should use an upcoming retreat in Sweden to consider its next steps, she said, ending her address.

1 hour ago

“In the United Kingdom’s view it cannot be illegal to use force to prevent the killing of such numbers of innocent people”, Ms Pierce has said.
Earlier Downing Street released its legal reasoning, following pressure from Jeremy Corbyn, and said its intervention had been for humanitarian reasons. A limited use of force was needed to save lives, the document said.

1 hour ago

A few minutes ago, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said her country was “locked and loaded” if Mr Assad uses chemical weapons again.

1 hour ago

Ms Pierce said: “The Syrian regime and its supporters are responsible for the gravest violations of international and humanitarian law in modern history.
“They have used indiscriminate weapons, notably barrel bombs and cluster munitions, against civilians and they have deliberately targeted medical facilities and schools, as well as humanitarian personnel and civilian objects.
“They have used sieges and starvation as methods of warfare accompanied by attacks on opposition-held civilian areas.”
Bashar al-Assad’s government has “persistently disrupted humanitarian aid and medical evacuations”, she added.
“Repeated attempts over several years to hold them to account have been met with Russian obstruction and resistance,” she said.

1 hour ago

The UK’s representative at the Security Council is now setting out the government’s legal case.
Karen Pierce says the body has met 113 times during the Syrian war.

1 hour ago

Russia’s ambassador to the UN has said the US-led strikes on Syria have threatened the UN’s attempts to broker a political solution to the conflict.

2 hours ago

The UN secretary general has urged all members of the Security Council to exercise restraint and avoid escalation in Syria.

2 hours ago

These images shows the rubble of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry.
This is the location at which the Pentagon said some 57 Tomahawk missiles were launched last night.
A Syrian soldier stands amid the wreckage (AP)
Syrian state news agency SANA reported that one of the buildings destroyed contained “scientific labs and a training centre”.
Damaged buildings in the Barzah area (AFP/Louai Beshara/Getty)

2 hours ago

Russia proposed a draft UN Security Council resolution on Saturday that would condemn “the aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic by the US and its allies in violation of international law and the UN Charter”.
It was not immediately clear when it could be put to a vote. It was unlikely to get the minimum nine votes needed to force a veto by the US, France or Britain, said diplomats.
A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, Britain or the United States to pass.

3 hours ago

This is the moment that Donald Trump echoed, intentionally or otherwise, earlier today when he declared “Mission Accomplished!” in Syria.
On Twitter the US President praised a “perfectly executed strike last night” and said: “Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”
Fifteen years ago his predecessor, George W Bush, stood aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in front of a banner proclaiming Mission Accomplished in Iraq.
Major combat operations in 2003 had concluded by that time, but the war would drag on for years afterwards and its repercussions are still being felt.
(AP Photo/J Scott Applewhite)

3 hours ago

The government has published its legal reasoning for the strikes on Syria, saying international law permits it to use force to alleviate humanitarian suffering if three conditions are met.
There must be convincing evidence of “extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief”, and no other option but the use of force if lives are to be saved, the document says.
The third condition is that use of military force must be proportionate and strictly limited, the government says.
Its justification adds: “The repeated, lethal use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity.
“On the basis of what we know about the Syrian regime’s pattern of use of chemical weapons to date, it was highly likely that the regime would seek to use chemical weapons again, leading to further suffering and loss of civilian life as well as the continued displacement of the civilian population.”

3 hours ago

Analysis here from our defence editor, Kim Sengupta.

US-led attack careful to avoid any Russian and Iranian casualties

The Western air strikes in Syria which took place after days of accusations and recriminations with Russia were, at the end, relatively limited in scale, focusing on sites linked to chemical weapons and carefully attempting to avoid Russian and Iranian casualties.

3 hours ago

Dana White, answering journalists’ questions, agreed with Donald Trump and said “it was mission accomplished”.
“It was a successful mission”, she added, saying all targets were hit and no allied aircraft were engaged by hostile forces.

3 hours ago

Images released by the Pentagon showing one of the Syrian targets, Barzah research and development facility, before and after an air strike involving 57 Tomahawk missiles

4 hours ago

A map, produced by the US Department of Defence, of Western forces at the time of the strikes on Syria

4 hours ago

Asked to address Russian claims that the majority of missiles fired by the Western powers had been intercepted, Lt Gen McKenzie said that he believed “no Syrian weapon had any effect on anything we did”.

4 hours ago

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie gave more details about the strikes.
Fifty-seven Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched against the Barzah research and development facility, while a further 22 projectiles were fired at the second and third targets at Him Shinsar.
Syria’s chemical weapons programme had been set back several years as a result of the strikes, he claimed.
The US has no record of civilian casualties yet, Lt Gen McKenzie said.

Russia and Syria have claimed most of the missiles, numbering about 110, were intercepted, while the UK has said the strikes were “highly successful” and 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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