Missiles fired at Syrian government airbase; U.S. denies involvement

09.04.2018

Missiles struck a Syrian government military facility in Homs province early on Monday, state media reported, but it remained unclear who was behind the attack after the U.S. denied involvement. The attack killed and wounded several people, state-run news agency SANA reported, citing a military source.

"Our air defences confronted a rocket aggression on T-4 military airport," SANA quoted the source as saying. The source added that eight missiles were shot down.

Syrian television said civilians in the area heard loud explosions. It was not clear who carried out the raid, which came after aid organisations estimated that more than 70 people were killed in an alleged chemical attack on rebel-held Douma, outside Damascus, on Saturday.

The Pentagon denied the U.S. was responsible for the strikes, which came hours after President Donald Trump vowed there would be a "big price to pay" for the chemical attack. "At this time, the Department of Defence is not conducting air strikes in Syria," the Pentagon said.

"However, we continue to closely watch the situation and support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable," it continued. Damascus and its ally Russia have denied carrying out the alleged chemical attack.

Trump condemned the alleged attack and blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran for backing Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. "Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria," Trump wrote on Twitter. "President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!" he said.

Trump also discussed the chemical attack in a telephone conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, the White House said, with both leaders vowing to co-ordinate "a strong, joint response." In April last year, Trump ordered airstrikes on Syrian government facilities in the wake of a chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed at least 80 people. Some Lebanese media outlets said residents living near the north-eastern border with Syria heard jets in the sky in the early morning hours, suggesting that the attack may have been carried out by Israel.

Journalists could not independently confirm those reports and an Israeli military spokeswoman told journalists she did not want to comment on the Syria raid. On 10 February, an Israeli air raid targeted an ammunition warehouse at the T-4 military airport and Israel has previously targeted other "Iranian targets" inside Syria.

Israel's military claimed earlier this year that Damascus had allowed Iran's Revolutionary Guard to operate the T-4 military site, according to the Times of Israel.

Meanwhile, SANA said the first batch of prisoners who had been kidnapped by Syrian rebels in the Adra region inside Eastern Ghouta since 2013, were released from the town of Douma. In return, rebels and civilians began leaving Douma, the last opposition-held pocket near the Syrian capital Damascus, a war monitor and SANA said. The evacuees included rebel fighters and their families as well as captives released by the rebel Jaish al-Islam faction that controls Douma, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Under the Russian-brokered deal, thousands of fighters from Jaish al-Islam will safely leave the town for an opposition-held area in northern Syria. The accord will tighten the government's grip on Eastern Ghouta, a former opposition enclave, which has been the target of a sustained campaign by the Syrian military in recent weeks. Should the government recapture the whole area - as now looks likely - it would deal the harshest blow to the rebels since December 2016, when al-Assad's forces regained full control of the northern city of Aleppo following a Russian-backed campaign.    (dpa)

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