WASHINGTON (AP) – Syria’s deputy U.N. ambassador is calling Thursday’s U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian air base a “barbaric, flagrant act of aggression” that will embolden “terrorist groups” to use chemical weapons in the future.
Mounzer Mounzer stressed at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Friday that the Syrian government doesn’t possess chemical weapons and isn’t responsible for Tuesday’s attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Syria maintains that an air strike hit a warehouse in the town where opposition forces stored chemicals.
Mounzer accuses the United States of justifying its air strikes “with empty pretexts” and “fabricated arguments.”
Mounzer says the real aim of the U.S.-led coalition, which is in Syria ostensibly to go after extremist groups, is to weaken the Syrian government and its allies.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says that while the Syrian government is responsible for Tuesday’s chemical attack, Iran and Russia bear “heavy responsibility” for propping up and shielding President Bashar Assad.
Nikki Haley told the U.N. Security Council Friday that Russia is supposed to be a guarantor that all chemical weapons were removed from Syria under a 2013 agreement.
Haley says it could be that Russia knowingly allowed chemical weapons to remain, or that it was “incompetent” in their removal. She says: “Or it could be that the Assad regime is playing the Russians for fools, telling them that there are no chemical weapons, all the while stockpiling them on their bases.”
Haley says: “The world is waiting for Russia to act responsibly in Syria.”
The U.S. military says 58 of the 59 missiles struck their intended targets in the strike on a Syrian air base.
A U.S. official says the initial assessment suggests one of the missiles malfunctioned. The official says the missiles hit multiple aircraft and hardened aircraft shelters and destroyed the fuel area.
The official says information is still coming in from the site of the strike.
The official is not authorized to discuss initial reports and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry is calling the chemical attack that killed scores in northern Syria a “premeditated action that aimed to justify the launching of a US attack on the Syrian army.”
The ministry described the U.S. missile attack that heavily damaged the Shayrat air base in the central province of Homs “a flagrant aggression.”
It said in a statement Friday that the real objective of the U.S. attack was to “weaken the strength of the Syrian army in confronting terrorist groups.”
The U.N. envoy for Syria tells The Associated Press that his office is in “crisis management mode” following a U.S. strike on a Syrian air base.
Staffan de Mistura said he was convening an “emergency meeting” later Friday of the International Syria Support Group’s cease-fire task force. He said Russia requested the meeting, which was “agreed upon” by the United States.
The two countries are the co-chairs of the multi-country panel that meets regularly in Geneva.
In a text message to the AP, de Mistura said: “We currently are in full operational crisis management mode,” without elaborating.
The acknowledgement marked the biggest sign yet that the first intentional U.S. military action against President Bashar Assad’s forces could affect nearly three years of peace-making efforts by the U.N. envoy.
Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine says President Donald Trump’s decision to retaliate against Syria was not legally justified, although it was right from a moral standpoint.
Kaine tells CNN that Trump should not have ordered military airstrikes in Syria “without coming to Congress” first.
Kaine says the Constitution is very clear in that only Congress declares war. Many legal scholars would disagree, noting that a president can act unilaterally in such cases that U.S. troops are at risk.
Kaine is calling on Trump to outline a plan to resolve the Syrian conflict so Congress can debate and vote on it.
Kaine is a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. He also was the Democratic candidate for vice president last year.
Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says President Donald Trump must “be prepared to take other action” in Syria.
In an interview on MSNBC, McCain praised Thursday’s air strikes as a measured approach to chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government that “restores credibility” to the U.S. and gives Trump a chance to “reboot with the American people.” McCain says the Syrian air force must be neutralized and that new demilitarized “safe zones” should be created to address the humanitarian crisis.
Also, McCain says it would help for Trump to stop impulsively tweeting. He says: “I would love to see the tweeting stop. But I’d also like to see pigs fly. … I just think it’s in his DNA. But perhaps there will be more restraint.”