WASHINGTON, U.S. - After issuing several threats, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Friday that in conjunction with the U.K. and France, the country had launched military strikes on Syria.
The military strikes came a week after a gas attack in the rebel-held Douma left about 40 people dead and several others injured, leading to U.S. and other countries blaming the attack on the Syrian government.
After delivering Trump's Friday night address, local reports in Syria confirmed that there were large explosions at sites near Damascus and in the countryside of Homs.
In a report, Syrian state television said that government air defense systems were responding to “the American aggression.”
Further, the report broadcast a video of missiles being fired into the night sky.
There were no comments on whether the missiles hit anything.
According to the report, 13 missiles had been shot down by Syrian air defenses near Al-Kiswa, a town south of Damascus.
In his official statement, Trump announced the military strike from the White House and said that the U.S. was prepared to sustain its response.
He added that the strike was carried out in conjunction with the U.K. and France, “until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
Further commenting on the situation in the Middle East, Trump described the region as a “troubled place.”
He also singled out Russia and Iran as “most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime.”
Trump further said, “To Iran and to Russia I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children? The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by supporting rogue states, brutal tyrants and murderous dictators.”
He added, “Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace. Hopefully, some day, we’ll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not.”
Later, addressing reporters at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the military coalition had targeted three chemical weapons facilities operated by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.
However, some reports quoted the Free Syrian Army spokesperson as saying that the number of sites that struck was higher.
Mattis elaborated that there were also no immediate plans for additional strikes.
He, however, warned that future action will depend on Syria’s response.
He said, “Right now, this is a one-time shot.”
Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that the U.S. had warned Russia that its aircraft were in Syrian airspace prior to the attack, using their usual military-to-military deconfliction line.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May too issued a statement saying that she had authorized military strikes after the Assad regime demonstrated a “pattern” of using chemical weapons on civilians.
May added that the U.K. had “sought every possible diplomatic channel” to resolve the crisis.
Adding, “So there is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Regime.”
The British Prime Minister added that the strikes were “not about intervening in a civil war,” but rather about sending “a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.”
Confirming the action, French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement that his country’s “red line” had been crossed by the April 7 attack.
He said that France had decided to join in the strikes as a result of Syria’s actions.
Meanwhile, commenting on the strikes, the Russian Embassy issued a statement saying their “worst apprehensions have come true. Our warnings have been left unheard.”
The embassy said, “A pre-designed scenario is being implemented. Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.”
The joint strike came after Alexander Zasypkin, the Russian ambassador to Lebanon warned earlier this week that Russia would shoot down any missiles targeting Syria, “and even the sources from which the missiles were fired.”
Further, soon after Trump made the announcement, Democrats in Congress rebuked the President’s action.
Democrats argued that while the suspected chemical weapons attack was horrific, Trump lacked the authority to unilaterally order the airstrikes.
Further, Democrats even threatened to draw the U.S. deeper into the Syrian conflict.
In a statement, Pelosi said, “One night of airstrikes is not a substitute for a clear, comprehensive Syria strategy.”
Further, Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, said that Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes without Congressional approval “is illegal and – absent a broader strategy – it’s reckless.”
Democrats were not alone, but some Republicans also agreed.
Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky expressed opposition to the move.
Massie said on Twitter, “I haven’t read France’s or Britain’s 'Constitution,' but I’ve read ours and no where in it is Presidential authority to strike Syria.”
Meantime the fact-finding mission team of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will continue its deployment to Syria to establish the facts around the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma.
The OPCW, in a statment on Saturday from The Hagu, said it has been working in close collaboration with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security to assess the situation and ensure the safety of the team.
The body announcd four days ago it was sending an investigative team to Syria.