World response to US strike reflects divide over Syria

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By The Associated Press

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.


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.


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 said they feared it would be a one-off. Alaa Alyousef, a 27-year-old survivor, called for a no-fly zone to protect civilians, saying that confining the strikes to one air base was merely an “anesthetic.” Khaled al-Khaled, 45, who is struggling to recover from the attack, said he rejects foreign intervention in Syria, but that “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.


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.


Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi 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.” Iran is a key ally of Assad.


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 serve as a deterrent for any possible 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,” the Islamic State group.


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.

(Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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