World response to US strike reflects divide over Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — The U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base was widely welcomed as a response to this week’s chemical weapons attack, but condemned by Syria’s government and its allies Russia and Iran, which said the move would complicate efforts to fight terrorism.
The following is a sample of the reactions from the international community, the parties to Syria’s six-year-old civil war and victims of the chemical attack.
A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said the strike “deals a significant blow to the Russia-U.S. relations, which are already in a deplorable shape,” and poses a “serious obstacle” for creating an international coalition against terrorism. The Kremlin responded by suspending a crucial line of communication with the U.S. set up in 2015 to prevent confrontations in Syria’s crowded skies.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s office denounced the U.S. strike as “reckless, irresponsible behavior.” The Syrian military called the attack a “blatant aggression” that would undermine Syria’s “fight against terrorism.” The government refers to all groups fighting against it, including mainstream rebels, as terrorists, and has denied any involvement in the chemical attack.
Jamil al-Saleh, a rebel commander in the central Hama province, called for more strikes, saying “Bashar’s regime only understands force.” He said he hoped the missile attack “is a turning point and not a passing thing.” The Syrian Coalition, an opposition group, said the U.S. attack puts an end to an age of “impunity” and should herald the start of a larger campaign.
CHEMICAL ATTACK VICTIMS
The victims of Tuesday’s chemical attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed more than 80 people and wounded dozens more, welcomed the strike but feared it would be a one-off. Alaa Alyousef, a 27-year-old survivor, called for a no-fly zone to protect civilians. Khaled al-Khaled, whose 16-year-old son is struggling to recover from the attack, said he rejects foreign intervention, but “the regime has forced us to join hands with enemies... No one is supporting the Syrian people. Only God is on our side.”
A foreign ministry official praised “the courageous decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to respond to the (Syrian) regime’s crimes against its people in light of the failure of the international community to stop the regime from brutalizing its people.” Saudi Arabia is a leading supporter of the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.
OTHER GULF COUNTRIES
The United Arab Emirates, which hosts some 4,000 American troops, said the U.S. had its “full support” and praised Trump’s “courageous and wise decision.” The tiny island nation of Bahrain said the U.S. strike on Syria was “needed to stop the bloodshed” in that country’s war. That island kingdom hosts the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. Both governments long have been suspicious of Iran and its regional influence, and both have opposed Assad.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed Turkey’s support for the U.S. strike. “This regime must be removed from leading Syria as soon as possible and the best way to do that is by starting the transitional process,” he said. Pointing to Assad’s “continuing crimes against humanity,” he also warned of further refugee flows from the conflict.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. strike was “dangerous, destructive and violates the principles of international law,” adding that it would “not only complicate the situation in Syria but in the entire region.” Allaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of a parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, said “Russia and Iran won’t be quiet against such acts.”
The Iran-backed Lebanese group, which has sent thousands of fighters to Syria to bolster Assad, said the “foolish” strike would lead to a “dangerous escalation in the region.”
The British government said it was informed in advance about the U.S. missile strikes, and firmly supports the American action. Prime Minister Theresa May’s office called it “an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime,” saying it was “intended to deter further attacks.”
French President Francois Hollande said the strikes were a response to the chemical attack, and planned an emergency defense meeting to discuss next steps in Syria. France has long called for Assad’s departure, but French diplomats have pushed this week for resumed peace talks instead of international intervention. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the U.S. bombing was a warning to Assad’s allies Russia and Iran.
Italy said the U.S. strikes on Syria were “proportionate” given the “war crimes” committed by the Assad government in using chemical weapons against its own people. It said the U.S. strikes would deter future chemical attacks. The country’s largest opposition group, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, condemned the U.S. attack and demanded Italy not get drawn in. The opposition center-right Northern League party called the strikes a “gift to ISIS.”
Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said the missile attack “raises questions about how this could be compatible with international law,” and said the U.N. Security Council “must take responsibility for reaching a lasting political solution” in Syria. The Scandinavian country — a non-permanent Security Council member — currently holds its presidency.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says “the Syrian regime bears the full responsibility” for the U.S. missile strike. He said that “any use of chemical weapons is unacceptable, cannot go unanswered, and those responsible must be held accountable.”
President Reuven Rivlin said the U.S. strike on Syria was an “appropriate response” to the “unthinkable brutality” of the chemical attack. He said the U.S. “serves as an example to the entire free world” in supporting steps to end atrocities in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman also welcomed the strikes.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a close U.S. ally, said he supported “the resolve of the U.S. government of never tolerating the proliferation and use of chemical weapons.” In a veiled reference to North Korea, Abe added that the threat of weapons of mass destruction is becoming increasingly serious in East Asia as well.