WASHINGTON/BEIRUT, April 14 (Reuters) – U.S., British and French forces pounded Syria with air strikes early on Saturday in response to a poison gas attack that killed dozens of people last week, in the biggest intervention by Western powers against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced the military action from the White House. As he spoke, explosions rocked Damascus.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron said their forces had joined in the attack.
With more than 100 missiles fired from ships and manned aircraft, the allies struck three of Syria’s main chemical weapons facilities, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford said.
Mattis called the strikes a “one time shot,” but Trump raised the prospect of further strikes if Assad’s government again uses chemical weapons.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” the U.S. president said in a televised address.
The Syrian conflict pits a complex myriad of parties against each other with Russia and Iran giving Assad military and political help while fractured opposition forces have had varying levels of support at different times from the West, Arab states and Turkey.
The strikes risked raising tension in an already combustible region but appeared designed not to trigger a military response from Russia and Iran.
Nevertheless, Assad’s government and Russia both responded angrily.
“Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences,” Anatomy Anton, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, said on Twitter.
Syrian state media said the attack would fail and called it a “flagrant violation of international law.”
It was unclear if the strikes will deter Assad from again using chemical weapons.
They seemed unlikely to have much impact on the balance of power in Syria’s seven-year-old civil war, in which Assad’s government has steadily gained the upper hand against armed opponents since Russia intervened in 2015.
Trump had tough words for Assad and his suspected role in last week’s chemical weapons attack. “These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster,” he said.