Syria airstrikes, a warning to the use of chemical weapons

In 14th April, the United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles overnight in Syria, in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Douma a week ago, targeting  three chemical weapons facilities, including a research and development center in Damascus’ Barzeh district and two installations near Homs.

What happened in Douma, Syria, on 7th April?


The suspected attack, denied by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, was carried out in the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on 7 April, reportedly killing dozens of people. Two bombs filled with chemicals were reportedly dropped several hours apart on the town. The World Health Organization said it had received reports from its local « health cluster partners » of 43 deaths related to “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals ».

The Russian foreign minister denied the use of chemical weapons in Douma.

The western reaction to the Douma Attack


French President Emmanuel Macron declared that France’s “red line has been crossed” after the last week chemical attack. In a statement, he echoed May’s call for the end of chemical weapons.

We cannot tolerate the normalization of the use of chemical weapons, which is a direct threat to the security of the Syrian people and our collective security”  President Macron

In 14th April, the US, UK and France launched a joint military strike against Syrian chemical weapons facilities. Their air forces and navies fired 105 missiles, targeting three key sites in Syria. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, said the missiles had hit and destroyed three targets « specifically associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons programme » including a research and development center in Damascus’ Barzeh district and two installations near Homs. In a debate in European Parliament on the future of Europe, Emmanuel Macron underlined that there were no victims during this joint military strike.

The bombing was the biggest intervention by Western countries against Assad and his ally Russia, but the three countries said the strikes were limited to Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and not aimed at toppling Assad or intervening in the civil war.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the operation a success. “Mission Accomplished!” he tweeted.

The Syrian government still claims the chemical attack never happened. The Syrian President Bashar Assad denounced the strikes against Syria.

After action, diplomacy

Western allies are now launching diplomatic offensive in wake of strikes. Macron said the priority must be to « initiate negotiations as soon as possible on a credible and inclusive political process, » according to a statement from the Elysee Palace.

The United Nations Security Council rejected a Russian resolution that would have condemned airstrikes carried out hours earlier by the United States, Britain and France against Syria. The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, who had warned that “the Cold War is back with a vengeance,” urged the nations “to show restraint” and to avoid a situation “spiraling out of control.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council « there is clear information demonstrating Assad’s culpability. » And she added that President Donald Trump said that if the Syrian regime uses poisonous gas again « the United States is locked and loaded » to strike again.

In 16th April, European Union foreign ministers threatened new sanctions against Syria over its alleged chemical attacks, but held off from joining expected new punitive U.S. measures against Russia.

Some French and British MPs criticized the fact that their government acted before chemical weapons inspectors could visit the concerned attacked site, and without the UN approval.

© Stéphane De Sakutin/AFP


World leaders reactions


They backed the western strikes


  • Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of NATO: “I support the actions taken by the United States, the United Kingdom and France… This will reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons.” (…) “NATO considers the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security, and believes that it is essential to protect the Chemical Weapons Convention”. “This calls for a collective and effective response by the international community.”
  • European Council president Donald Tusk said the European Union would stand with its allies « on the side of justice »: « Strikes by US, France and UK make it clear that Syrian regime together with Russia and Iran cannot continue this human tragedy, at least not without cost« 
  • Bulgarian government statement (Bulgaria currently holds the rotating EU presidency): « It has always been Bulgaria’s position that no cause justifies the killing of innocent people, including children; that the use of chemical weapons is a war crime and the strike on Syrian targets was a response to a war crime. »
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the strikes calling them a “necessary and appropriate” warning against the use of chemical weapons.
  • Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy: « What has occurred in Syria in recent days goes far beyond the constant violation of cease fires. The response to these atrocities is legitimate and proportionate. »
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau : “Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people”. “We will continue to work with our international partners to further investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Those responsible must be brought to justice.”‎
  • Turkey’s foreign ministry: « Turkey considers the operation carried out by the United States, United Kingdom and France to be an appropriate response to the chemical attack which caused the deaths of many civilians in Douma. (…) We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma, largely suspected to have been carried out by the regime.”
  • Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe: « The use of chemical weapon is extremely inhumane and we cannot absolutely tolerate that. Japan supports the determination of the U.S., the U.K. and France not to allow the use and proliferation of chemical weapons. »
  • Australian Defense Minister Marisa Payne: « By continuing to employ chemical weapons against innocent Syrian civilians, the Assad regime has violated international law and abandoned its own commitments to the international community. These strikes are not seeking to escalate the conflict in Syria, but these violations of international law and norms cannot be allowed to continue. »


They supported the Syrian government position


  • Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:S., allies will not gain any achievements from crimes in Syria. Attacking Syria is a crime. U.S. president, U.K. prime minister and the president of France are criminals
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin: “An act of aggression against a sovereign state that is on the frontline in the fight against terrorism was committed without a mandate from the UN Security Council and in violation of the UN Charter and norms and principles of international law.”
  • China’s foreign ministry said they are “opposed to the use of force” in Syria and called for a « return to the framework of international law ».

© Hassan Ammar / Associated Press

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