Assad denounces US strike against Syria as ‘foolish’ and ‘reckless’

By Yaron Steinbuch

President Bashar al-Assad denounced the US on Friday, calling the missile strike that leveled an airbase in central Syria, “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

“What America did is nothing but foolish and irresponsible behavior, which only reveals its short-sightedness and political and military blindness to reality,” his office said

Nine civilians – including four children – were killed in the 59-missile strike against the Shayrat airbase in retaliation for the regime’s chemical attack against its citizens, according to the Syrian state news agency.

Five of the civilians were killed in the village of Shayrat near the base of the same name, while the others were killed in the villages of Al-Hamrat and Al-Manzul, according to the SANA report.

Seven more people were wounded and homes in the area were badly damaged in the barrage of 59 Tomahawk missiles fired from two US warships in the eastern Mediterranean, according to reports.

Earlier, Homs governor Talal Barazi said seven people had been killed in the attack. It was not immediately clear if these were separate casualty tolls, Reuters reported.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitor, also put the death toll at seven, including a general and three soldiers.

President Trump ordered the strike in response to what he called a “barbaric” chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday that he blamed squarely on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Russia condemned the attack as “aggression,” suspended crucial coordination with the US in Syria’s congested skies and said it will help Syria shore up its air defenses.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Friday that a “complex of measures” to strengthen Syrian air defenses will be implemented to help “protect the most sensitive Syrian infrastructure facilities.”

Konashenkov said “the combat efficiency of the US strike was very low,” adding that only 23 of the 59 missiles reached the Shayrat air base in the province of Homs.

He said it destroyed six Syrian MiG-23 fighter jets that had been under repairs, but didn’t damage other Syrian warplanes at the base. He added that the base’s runway also has been left undamaged.

Meanwhile, the UN coordinator for humanitarian affairs said it had no sign that the strikes had “any direct consequence” on overall aid operations in Syria.

Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said such violence “is not a new feature” of Syria’s war, and cited continued UN-led efforts to reach people in besieged and hard-to-reach areas of the country.

Meanwhile, US allies came out Friday with statements of support for Washington’s move to target the Syrian base that intelligence officials believe was used to carry out the sarin gas attack the claimed 86 lives.

In a joint statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande backed attack.

“Assad carries the complete responsibility for these developments, his continuous use of chemical arms and mass crimes cannot remain effectively unpunished,” the leaders said.

British Defense Minister Michael Fallon told the BBC that the US had made it clear the airstrikes were going to be an American action only and didn’t seek allied help.

Fallon backed the strikes as an appropriate measure against the Syrian regime and said the UK has reaffirmed its commitment to the US-ledd coalition against ISIS.

The French, Germans and the NATO also were informed of the strikes in advance.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis contacted the German defense minister who informed Merkel, the German ministry said. Mattis also contacted NATO head Jens Stoltenberg to inform him of the strikes, according to a NATO official.

While NATO didn’t immediately make a comment on the strikes, Stoltenberg had condemned the gas attack. Turkey also was informed in advance of the strikes.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had been informed by the US ahead of the strike.

In a statement released about three hours after the strike, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the US move, the Times of Israel reported.

“In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated,” Netanyahu said in a statement by his office.

He added: “Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision and hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere.”

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