Syria war: US missile strikes bring angry Russian response

BY THE BBC/UPESINEWS,7TH APRIL 2017-Russia has promised to strengthen Syria’s anti-aircraft defences after the US bombarded a Syrian air base with missiles, reportedly destroying it.

US officials said the base had been used to launch a chemical weapons attack in north-western Syria that left dozens of civilians dead on Tuesday.

Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad, condemned the US strike.

It also suspended a deal with the US designed to avoid collisions between their air forces over Syria.

In the first direct US military action against Syria’s government, at least six people are reported to have been killed.

Idlib’s opposition-run health authority says 89 people, including 33 children and 18 women, died in the suspected nerve gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Syria denies using nerve gas.

The UN Security Council is meeting to discuss the US missile strikes, with Secretary General Antonio Guterres urging restraint.

The US is currently chairing the UN Security Council

America’s weapon of choice: Analysis by Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence & diplomatic correspondent

Cruise missiles fly low and have a relatively small radar cross-section so they are difficult to destroy with air defences. Russia may seek to improve Syria’s surface-to-air missile system in the wake of this US attack but it would be very much a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Syria used to have a highly effective national air defence system based on Soviet-era radars and missiles but it has been significantly weakened in the wake of the civil war and the loss of territory by the regime. Look at the ease with which the Israelis carry out strikes against Hezbollah arms convoys and weapons stores in Syria.

Russia has some of its most modern surface-to-air missile systems at its air base in Syria and radars with a huge reach but, for whatever reason, they too have not deterred Israeli strikes.

Their presence makes air strikes by manned US aircraft unlikely and for Washington the Tomahawk cruise missile will remain the weapon of choice.

What do we know about the missile strike?

Two US Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat airfield in western Homs province at about 04:40 Syrian time (01:40 GMT).

They targeted aircraft, aircraft shelters, storage areas, ammunition supply bunkers and air defence systems at the Syrian government-controlled facility, according to the Pentagon.

It said the base was used to store chemical weapons and that “every precaution” had been taken to avoid casualties. The Russian military was informed beforehand, the Pentagon said.

Speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, US President Donald Trump said in a statement that he had acted to prevent the use of chemical weapons.

Unnamed US intelligence sources have told media they believe Russian personnel were at Shayrat when Sarin was loaded on to a Syrian jet but they have not established whether the Russians knew it was happening.

Russia’s military said many cruise missiles had failed to hit their intended targets.

What are they saying on the ground?

Retired civil servant Mateea Zefa, who lives about 800m (874yds) from the base, went with his children to look at the base afterwards and found it “totally destroyed”.

Damage to the airfield was clear on Friday

“We saw lots of bombs,” he told the BBC by phone. “Loads of them. It was a tough night. My house was damaged, almost all the windows broke and some walls cracked.”

Houses on one side of the base were also “totally destroyed”, he added.

A nurse at Shayrat’s hospital, Ammar al-Khidr, recalled being woken by “big explosions” at “around 03:30 or 03:45”

 

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