WASHINGTON DC: The United States, Britain and France on Friday carried out a wave of punitive strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks.
Reactions have poured in from around the world, and western leaders have been quick to lend their support to allied forces. UN has urged for calm, as Amnesty warned that strikes must minimise harm to civilians.
'Time for civilised nations to unite'
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called on the international community to "urgently" unite and bring an end to Syria's civil war.
"It is time for all civilised nations to urgently unite in ending the Syrian civil war by supporting the United Nations backed Geneva peace process," Mattis said.
A quick series of US, French and British air strikes in Syria were designed to send a "clear message" to President Bashar al-Assad and stop his chemical weapons program, he told reporters.
The Pentagon chief stressed the strikes were carefully calibrated to provide a strong response to a suspected chemical attack, but avoid pulling the West into Syria's civil war.
"The targets tonight again were specifically designed to degrade the Syrian war machine's ability to create chemical weapons and to set that back," Mattis said.
"There were no attempts to broaden or expand that target set."
"Clearly, the Assad regime did not get the message last year," Mattis said.
"This time, the allies struck harder. We sent a clear message to Assad," he added, noting that double the number of weapons were deployed compared to last year, when 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at Shayrat air base.
Syria says Western attack 'doomed to fail'
The air strikes appeared to last about an hour. Mattis said no additional attacks were planned, though Trump earlier suggested the strikes could last longer.
General Joe Dunford, who is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US chose targets to avoid hitting Russian forces.
The US military warned Russia of areas it would be operating in, but did not coordinate planning or targets, Dunford said.
Dunford added the precision strikes hit three targets - a scientific research center near Damascus, a storage facility and command post also near the capital and a chemical weapons storage facility near Homs.
British PM says no alternative to use of force in Syria
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday there was "no practicable alternative" to the use of force in Syria as she announced Britain had joined France and the United States in launching strikes against Syria.
"This evening I have authorised British armed forces to conduct co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime's chemical weapons capability and deter their use," she said in a statement.
May said "a significant body of information including intelligence" pointed to Syrian government responsibility for a suspected chemical attack last Saturday.
"There is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime," she said.
"This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change.
"It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties," she said.
May said the strikes would "also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity".
"This is the first time as prime minister that I have had to take the decision to commit our armed forces in combat - and it is not a decision I have taken lightly.
"I have done so because I judge this action to be in Britain's national interest," she added.
Key quotes from Trump's address on Syria
Here are key excerpts from Trump's televised address to the nation which announced the launch of joint strikes and lasted just under eight minutes:
"My fellow Americans - a short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad."
"A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both."
"Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians - this time in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime."
"The evil and the despicable attack left mother and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead."
Pakistan weighs down imminent Syria air strikes
"The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons."
"Establishing this deterrent is a vital national security interest of the United States. The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power - military, economic, and diplomatic."
"We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."
"To Iran and to Russia, I ask: what kind of nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children?"
"The nations of the world can be judged by the friends they keep. No nation can succeed in the long run by promoting rogue states, brutal tyrants, and murderous dictators."
"In 2013, President Putin and his government promised the world that they would guarantee the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons. Assad's chemical attack - and today's response - are the direct result of Russia's failure to keep that promise."
"Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path, or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace."
"America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances."
"No amount of American blood and treasure can produce lasting peace and security in the Middle East."
"The United States will be a partner and a friend but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people."
NATO chief 'supports' Syria strikes: statement
The head of NATO expressed his support for Western strikes in Syria on Saturday after bombings targeting Bashar al-Assad's regime in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack.
"I support the actions taken by the United States, the United Kingdom and France... This will reduce the regime's ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Stoltenberg said the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons was "a clear breach of international norms and agreements".
"NATO considers the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security, and believes that it is essential to protect the Chemical Weapons Convention," the statement added.
"This calls for a collective and effective response by the international community."
France used frigates, fighter jets to hit Syria: defence minister
France fired cruise missiles from frigates in the Mediterranean and deployed fighter jets from home bases as part of its strikes on Syria, Defence Minister Florence Parly said.
Speaking at the presidential palace, Parly said "these different assets fired cruise missiles in a perfectly coordinated way... closely synchronised with our American and British allies."
'Trump needs Congress approval for broader Syria effort'
US President Donald Trump's announcement on Friday of air strikes in Syria triggered swift warnings from opposition Democrats that any broader military campaign there would require a well-formulated strategic vision - and authorisation from Congress.
Trump said US forces launched "precision" strikes against Syrian targets, and that the United States would "sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led calls for Trump to map out a detailed plan and present it to Congress if he wants to expand military action.
"One night of air strikes is no substitute for a coherent strategy," Pelosi said in a statement.
Trump "must come to Congress to obtain a new AUMF (authorization for use of military force), present a clear set of objectives, & ultimately hold Putin accountable for the bloodshed he has enabled," she added, referring to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, the Syrian regime's most powerful ally.
US military forces have largely been operating under AUMFs passed by Congress shortly after the 9/11 attacks to conduct operations against extremist groups like the Islamic State, including in Syria.
Some Democrats like Senator Tim Kaine, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2016, said although last week's deadly apparent chemical attack was an abomination, Trump's air strikes were illegal.
"The last thing Congress should be doing is giving this president a blank check to wage war against anyone, anywhere. We need to put clear limits in place before he starts another war," said Kaine.
"Today, it's a strike on Syria - what's going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?"
Congressman Eric Swalwell reminded that Trump launched missile strikes without congressional approval against a Syrian air field last year.
"What's changed? Zero. They're still using chemical weapons," he said. "This is the result of a failure to have a strategy and engage Middle East countries to solve this problem."
Republican lawmakers largely backed the assault.
"The precision targeting of military targets are needed in the fight of good versus evil, a fight of the United States versus the dark edge of humanity," Senator Cory Gardner said.
US, France, Britain launch strikes on Syria
But some libertarian Republicans, notably congressman Justin Amash, expressed full-throated opposition.
"These offensive strikes against Syria are unconstitutional, illegal, and reckless," Amash said, adding that the next House speaker who succeeds outgoing Paul Ryan should "reclaim congressional war powers."
US-led strikes on Syria justified: Israeli official
Punitive US-led strikes on Syria are justified because of the "murderous actions" carried out by the Damascus government, an Israeli official said Saturday.
"Last year (US) President Donald Trump said that the use of chemical weapons would violate a red line. This night, under America's guidance, the United States, France and Britain acted accordingly (because) Syria continues to carry out its murderous actions," the official, who declined to be identified, said.
Strikes on Syria 'appropriate response' - Turkish foreign ministry source
Turkey welcomes air strikes on the Syrian government as an "appropriate" response, a foreign ministry source said on Saturday.
"We see the operation carried out against the Syrian government by the United States, the United Kingdom and France... as an appropriate response," the source said.
Canada backs Western strikes on Syria: PM
Canadian Prime Minister Justin has expressed his support for punitive strikes carried out by the US, Britain and France against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people," Trudeau said in a statement Friday.
UN chief urges restraint after strikes on Syria
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday called for restraint and for countries to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation in Syria after the United States, France and Britain carried out strikes.
Guterres delayed a planned trip to Saudi Arabia to deal with the aftermath of the military action.
"I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people," Guterres said in a statement.
The military operation was ordered in retaliation for what the West says was repeated use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces against civilians.
"Any use of chemical weapons is abhorrent. The suffering it causes is horrendous," Guterres said.
The UN chief said it was important to act in line with the UN charter and international law.
He urged the UN Security Council to agree on establishing an inquiry that would identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks.
Russia this week vetoed a US proposal to set up such a panel following an alleged chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Douma that killed more than 40 people, according to medics and rescuers.
Strikes must minimise harm to Syrian civilians: Amnesty
Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Saturday warned air strikes by Britain, France and the United States on Syria should "minimise harm to civilians" and urged US President Donald Trump to take in Syrian refugees.
"All precautions must be taken to minimise harm to civilians in any military action," Raed Jarrar, advocacy director for Middle East North Africa at Amnesty International USA said in a statement.
"The people of Syria have already endured six years of devastating attacks, including chemical attacks, many of which amount to war crimes," he said.
"People already living in fear of losing their lives in unlawful attacks must not be further punished for the alleged violations of the Syrian government," he added.
Jarrar also pointed to the refugee crisis caused by the conflict in Syria.
"The Trump administration must not turn its back on the suffering of men, women, and children by continuing to ban refugees from entering the United States. It is time for the US to reopen our doors to people trying to escape from the violence in Syria," he said.