Loud explosions rocked Syria’s capital and filled the sky with heavy smoke early Saturday after U.S. President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country’s alleged use of chemical weapons. Syrian television reported that air defenses responded to the attack.
Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and the sky turned orange. A huge fire could be seen from a distance to the east. Syrian television reported that a scientific research center had been hit.
Syrian media reported that air defenses hit 13 rockets south of Damascus. After the attack ceased and the early morning skies went dark once more, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) April 14, 2018
“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syria’s presidency tweeted after airstrikes began.
A Western attack on Syria hit a scientific research facility in Damascus and Syrian army depots in the Homs area, state media said, and a Reuters witness said the Syrian capital was rocked by explosions as smoke rose into the sky.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a second research facility was also struck in Damascus, in addition to a third in the Homs area, and five military bases and depots used by elite army divisions in the Mezzeh area of Damascus.
A senior official in the regional alliance that supports President Bashar al-Assad said the attack by the United States, Britain and France would be viewed as contained if it was now over. “If it is finished, and there is no second round, it will be considered limited,” the official told Reuters.
Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said all the targeted locations were evacuated three days ago after the Russians told the government they had intelligence that bases including the research centers would be hit. He said there were so far no reports of civilian or military casualties.
Trump announced Friday night that the three allies had launched military strikes to punish President Bashar Assad for the alleged chemical weapons use and to prevent him from doing it again.
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The U.S. president said the U.S. is prepared to “sustain” pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. It was not immediately clear whether Trump meant the allied military operation would extend beyond an initial nighttime round of missile strikes.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) April 14, 2018
Trump said the joint attack was expected to include barrages of cruise missiles launched from outside Syrian airspace. He described the main aim as establishing “a strong deterrent” against chemical weapons use.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.
Trump chastised Syria’s two main allies, Russia and Iran, for their roles in supporting “murderous dictators,” and noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had guaranteed a 2013 international agreement for Assad to get rid of all his chemical weapons. He called on Moscow to change course and join the West in seeking a more responsible regime in Damascus.
The allied operation comes a year after the U.S. missile strike that Trump said was meant to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons. Since that did not work, a more intense attack would aim to degrade his ability to carry out further such attacks, and would try to do this by hitting Syrian aircraft, military depots and chemical facilities, among other things.
The one-off missile strike in April 2017 targeted the airfield from which the Syrian aircraft had launched their gas attack. But the damage was limited, and a defiant Assad returned to episodic use of chlorine and perhaps other chemicals.
— İlyâs Safavî (@ilyassafavi) April 14, 2018
Unconfirmed report from inside Syria – The US-France-British strikes targeted brigade 105, the air defense base at Mount Qasioun, the Mazzeh military airport, the Barzeh #Damas scientific research center, and military warehouses west of Homs.
In his nationwide address, Trump stressed that he has no interest in a longtime fight with Syria.
“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances,” he said. “As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home.”
The U.S. has about 2,000 troops on the ground in Syria as advisers to a makeshift group of anti-Islamic State fighters known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. They are in eastern Syria, far from Damascus. A U.S.-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes in Syria since September 2014 as part of a largely successful effort to break the IS grip on both Syria and Iraq.
— RT (@RT_com) April 14, 2018
Hundreds of Syrians gathered at landmark squares in the Syrian capital Saturday, honking their car horns, flashing victory signs and waving Syrian flags in scenes of defiance that followed unprecedented joint airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain.
The Syrian statement read by Brig. Gen. Ali Mayhoub said three civilians were wounded in one of the strikes on a military base in Homs, although the attack was aborted by derailing the incoming missile. He said another attack with “a number of missiles” targeting a scientific research center in Barzeh, near Damascus, destroyed a building and caused other material damage but no human losses. Mayhoub said the building housed an educational center and labs.
Russia’s U.S. embassy released a statement warning that the airstrikes will “not be left without consequences.” It said that “all responsibility” rests with Washington, London and Paris.