Assad backers Iran, Russia threaten US after missile strike

A command center jointly operated by Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and other groups supporting the Syrian regime issued a statement Sunday condemning the recent US missile strike on a Syrian airbase and threatening to respond if such attacks continue.

“The aggression against Syria oversteps all red lines. We will react firmly to any aggression against Syria and to any infringement of red lines, whoever carries them out,” read a statement from the Syria-based joint operations room.

“The United States knows very well our ability to react,” said the statement published on the website of Al-Watan, a daily newspaper close to the regime.

The threat came in response to a US strike on Thursday, ordered by US President Donald Trump, which was retaliation for a deadly chemical weapons attack Tuesday in the northern Syrian province of Idlib that left at least 86 people dead, including 27 children, and allegedly employed the nerve agent sarin.

Footage of people and children choking on the gas prompted outrage across the globe.

“We condemn any attack targeting civilians and also condemn what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, even if we are convinced it was a premeditated act by certain countries and organisations to serve as a pretext to attack Syria,” Sunday’s statement added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani by phone on Sunday, during which they agreed that the US strike was a violation of international law.

“We denounce the US missile strike on Syria and regard it as a flagrant violation of an independent country’s sovereignty (and) a measure that needs to be addressed and condemned in the UN Security Council,” Rouhani said, according to Iranian media.

A US official said 59 precision guided Tomahawk missiles hit the regime-held Shayrat Airfield, north of the Syrian capital Damascus, from which Washington believes Tuesday’s deadly attack was launched.

In this image provided by the US Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, April 7, 2017.(Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the strikes signaled an overhaul of American policy, saying its priority remained to defeat Islamic State militants in the Middle East. The strike was the first time American forces targeted a Syrian government installation in the course of the war. US Treasury officials say they are preparing sanctions in response to the chemical weapons attack, though the Syrian government is already buried under US sanctions.

Tillerson will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow later this week. Moscow has been a steadfast ally of the Syrian government and has defended it against claims of chemical weapons use in front of the UN Security Council.

Both Russia and Iran previously condemned the US missile strike.

On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin

Putin considers the US strike as an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international norms,” according to Russian agencies.

Washington said that Russian military officials in Syria were informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis.

“The Syrian army does not have any chemical weapon stockpiles,” added Peskov. “The fact of destruction of all chemical weapon stockpiles of the Syrian armed forces was recorded and confirmed by the (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons).”

File: Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syria President Bashar Assad arrive for a meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, October 20, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

On Saturday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that “terrorists” were applauding Trump for launching the missile strike.

“This man who is now in office in America claimed that he wanted to fight terrorism but today all terrorists in Syria are celebrating the US attack,” Rouhani said in a speech aired by state television.

“Why have you attacked the Syrian army which is at war with terrorists? Under what law or authority did you launch your missiles at this independent country?”

Rouhani also called his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad in order to reaffirm Iran’s support for the Syrian regime, his office said Sunday.

Despite Russia and Iran’s condemnation of Thursday’s missile strike, many US allies have expressed support for the move.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on April 9, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / POOL / ABIR SULTAN)

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strike was the appropriate “moral” response to the chemical weapons attack.

“Israel fully supports the American attack on Syria,” Netanyahu said before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. “They did this for moral reasons in light of the difficult scenes from Idlib and also to make it clear that there is a price for using chemical weapons.”


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