Damascus Defiant As Trump Orders Strikes After Syria Chemical Attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the U.S.-led strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities as an "act of aggression".

Damascus Defiant As Trump Orders Strikes After Syria Chemical Attack

The strikes were targeted at three chemical factories in Syria

Beirut, Syria:  Syria, Russia and Iran shrugged off strikes on Saturday by the United States and its allies against three Syrian chemical weapons facilities, which drew angry condemnations but no indication that there would be a wider escalation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the U.S.-led strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities as an "act of aggression," Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatalloh Ali Khamenei tweeted that the attack represented "a war crime," and the Syrian Foreign Ministry described it as "barbarous aggression."

But the pre-dawn volleys of cruise missiles launched by the United States, Britain and France were limited to three sites linked to Syria's chemical weapons program and triggered no retaliation. Russia said they did little damage and that most of the cruise missiles targeting Syrian sites had been intercepted by Syrian air defenses, including all of those that were bound for the site from which last week's alleged chemical attack originated.

World leaders sought to tamp down any tensions associated with the strike.

"This was not about interfering in a civil war and it was not about regime change," Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May told a news conference in London. "We expressly sought to avoid escalation and did everything to avoid civilian casualties."

In Damascus, there was defiance and relief as residents jolted awake by explosions at around 4 a.m. realized the strikes would be limited. Syrian state television broadcast scenes of citizens taking to the streets to celebrate and demonstrate their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, waving Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags.

"The honorable cannot be humiliated," said a post from the Twitter account maintained by Assad's office shortly after the attack. A few hours later the account tweeted a video of him walking nonchalantly to work through the halls of the Syrian presidential palace.

The United States and its allies said three facilities associated with Syria's chemical weapons program were targeted: a scientific research center in the greater Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and command post, also near Homs.

Russia's Defense Ministry said they did little damage. In a statement the ministry said that of 103 cruise missiles fired in the U.S.-led airstrike, 71 were shot down by Syria's Soviet-made air-defense systems. The intercepted missiles included all 12 of those bound for the Al-Dumayr military airfield near Damascus, where the chemical attack that triggered the crisis was allegedly launched.

Russia said its own air defenses were not activated because none of the missiles passed through its zone of influence.

Russia also said there were no immediate reports of military or civilian casualties. The Syrian army command said three civilians had been injured in the attack on Homs.

The strikes had been flagged so far in advance that Syria and its allies had plenty of notice to evacuate the likely targets of civilians and assets, possibly also including key components of the chemical weapons program, leaving it unclear how much of an impact they would have.

"Thank God this was less than we had feared. We were scared of a bigger assault that could be devastating, but we are happy it was limited and less powerful," said Mayda Kumejian, a Damascus resident contacted by telephone. She described being jolted awake by explosions and the sound of jets roaring overhead.

"This strike is only muscle flexing by Trump to show his power," she said. "Assad's regime is much stronger now."

Crowds gathered in central Damascus expressed defiance, waving portraits of Assad and mocking Trump.

"We tell Trump, you can do nothing. Here we are celebrating to show that you are bankrupt," said a jubilant woman interviewed on state television.

The strikes were in response to an April 7 attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, east of Damascus, that killed an estimated 40 people with some form of lethal gas.

It was the second time in little over a year that the Trump administration has launched retaliatory strikes against Syria in the wake of chemical attacks. Last year's attack targeted the Shayrat air base outside Hama, which U.S. officials said was used to launch a sarin gas attack that killed 70 people in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Within a week of last year's strikes, Syrian media broadcast photographs showing that the base was operative again.

The latest strikes appeared to go further, targeting the facilities used in the research and production of chemical weapons.

But for Syrians who had welcomed the prospect of an American attack - and in many cases, called for them over many years - it did not take long for hope to sour into disappointment.

"We thought it would be much bigger than this," said Ahmed Primo, a journalist and activist now living in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. "Assad might have used chemical weapons this time, but he's been indiscriminately targeting civilians for years. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, hundreds of thousands of people have been disappeared.

"After seven years of war, we don't believe that anyone will come to help the Syrian people anymore," he said.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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