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West powers open to more bombing raids

Top News | Apr 16, 2018
Western allies will study "options" if Syria's government again uses chemical weapons, but nothing is planned as yet, Britain's foreign minister says, after raids on Syrian targets triggered heated debate over their legality and effectiveness.

US, French and British missile attacks struck at the heart of Syria's chemical weapons program on Saturday in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack a week ago, although the restrained assault appeared unlikely to halt Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's progress in the seven-year-old civil war.

The bombing, denounced by Damascus and its allies as an illegal act of aggression, was the biggest intervention by Western countries against Assad and his powerful 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.

Speaking on British television yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson threw his weight behind Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to take part in the attack, saying it was the right thing to do to deter further use of chemical weapons.

"There is no proposal on the table at the moment for further attacks because so far, thank heavens, the Assad regime have not been so foolish as to launch another chemical weapons attack," he said.

"If and when such a thing were to happen, then clearly with allies we would study what the options were."

His comments appeared in line with those of US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who said at an emergency meeting of the Security Council that Trump told her that if Syria uses poisonous gas again, "The United States is locked and loaded."

The Western countries said the strikes were aimed at preventing more Syrian chemical weapons attacks after a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7 killed up to 75 people. They blame Assad's government for the attack.

US President Donald Trump called the operation a success. He proclaimed on Twitter: "Mission accomplished," echoing former president George W Bush, whose use of the same phrase in 2003 to describe the US invasion of Iraq was widely ridiculed as violence there dragged on for years.

The Pentagon has said the strikes successfully hit the three chemical weapons facilities which were targeted.

US Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie said at the Pentagon: "We believe that by hitting Barzeh, in particular, we've attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program."

But McKenzie said elements of the program remain and he could not guarantee that Syria would be unable to conduct a chemical attack in the future.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the strikes were "unacceptable and lawless."

Syrian state media called them a "flagrant violation of international law."

Washington described the strike targets as a center near Damascus for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological weapons; a chemical weapons storage site near the city of Homs; and another site near Homs that stored chemical weapons equipment and housed a command post.

Inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog OPCW were due to try to visit Douma to inspect the site of the suspected gas attack.

Russia, whose ties with the West have sunk to levels of Cold War-era hostility, denies any gas attack happened in Douma and even said Britain staged it to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.

Syria agreed in 2013 to give up its chemical weapons after a nerve gas attack killed hundreds of people in Douma. Damascus is still permitted to have chlorine for civilian use, although its use as a weapon is banned.

Allegations of Assad's chlorine use have been frequent although, unlike nerve agents, chlorine did not produce mass casualties as seen last week.

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