No Pinoys hurt – DFA
MOSCOW: The US and its allies fired more than 100 cruise missiles at Syria, a significant number of which were intercepted by Syrian air defenses, the Russian defense ministry said on Saturday.
“More than 100 cruise missiles and air-to-land missiles were fired by the US, Britain and France from the sea and air at Syrian military and civilian targets,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by RIA Novosti news agency, adding that “a significant number” were shot down by Syrian air defenses.
It said that 12 cruise missiles were fired at an airfield close to Damascus and all were intercepted by Syria’s air defenses.
“Russian air defense systems located on Syrian territory have not been used to counter the missile strikes,” it said.
It said earlier that none of the Western strikes in Syria had hit areas covered by Russia’s air defenses around its Hmeimim air base and naval facility in Tartus.
The Russian military said the missiles were fired from US ships in the Red Sea as well as from tactical aircraft over the Mediterranean and by US strategic bombers from the Al-Tanf base in southeastern Syria.
The US, France, and Britain announced a joint operation against Syria’s government, a week after an alleged chemical attack outside the capital Damascus that was said to have left more than 40 people dead.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian however said on Saturday that missile strikes carried out overnight had destroyed a “large part” of the Damascus government’s stocks of chemical weapons.
“A large part of its chemical arsenal has been destroyed,” Le Drian told BFM television. “A lot has been destroyed in last night’s strikes.”
He also said France had “solid intelligence” that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind the gas attack in the rebel-held city of Douma last weekend, which monitors say killed at least 40 people.
“On the question of chemical weapons, there is a red line that must not be crossed, and if it should be crossed again, there will be another intervention,” Le Drian said.
“But I think the lesson has been learned.”
The Russian defenSe ministry said the strikes claimed no victims among Syrian civilians or military.
“According to preliminary information, there were no victims among peaceful civilians and the Syrian military,” senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi said at a briefing in Moscow.
Germany backs strikes
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the air strikes against the Syrian regime were “necessary and appropriate” after the suspected chemical weapons attacks that killed dozens in Douma.
“We support the fact that our US, British and French allies … assumed their responsibilities. The military intervention was necessary and appropriate,” Merkel said in a statement.
“Everything leads us to believe that [Assad] bears responsibility” for the Douma attack, Merkel said.
The chancellor on Thursday had ruled out Germany joining any military action against Syria.
On Saturday she said it appeared likely that the Syrian regime “had used chemical weapons against its own people on several occasions in the past”.
Merkel added: “A century after the end of World War I… we must fight against the erosion of the (international) convention on chemical weapons.”
“Germany will undertake, in a determined way, diplomatic efforts to support this,” Merkel said.
European Council President Donald Tusk said Saturday the European Union stood by the United States, France and Britain over their air strikes in Syria after alleged chemical attacks by the Damascus regime.
“Strikes by US, France and UK make it clear that Syrian regime together with Russia and Iran cannot continue this human tragedy, at least not without cost. The EU will stand with our allies on the side of justice,” Tusk said in a Twitter message.
EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said this was not the first time that Damascus had used chemical weapons against civilians “but it must be the last.
“The international community has the responsibility to identify and hold accountable those responsible of any attack with chemical weapons,” Juncker said in a statement.
“As it enters its 8th year of conflict, Syria desperately needs a lasting ceasefire respected by all parties that paves the way for achieving a negotiated political solution through the United Nations-led Geneva process, to bring peace to the country once and for all.”
Turkey on Saturday also welcomed Western strikes targeting Syrian President al-Assad’s regime as an “appropriate response” to the suspected chemical attack.
“We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma, largely suspected to have been carried out by the regime,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
Syria’s government denounced Western strikes on its military installations as a “brutal, barbaric aggression” that violated international law.
“The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the brutal American-British-French aggression against Syria, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law,” the foreign ministry said.
AFP’s correspondent in Damascus said several consecutive blasts were heard at 4:00 am local time (0100 GMT), followed by the sound of airplanes overhead.
State news agency SANA also reported the attack, but said it was “doomed to fail.”
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was set to begin its investigation inside the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma on Saturday, just hours after the strikes.
Syria’s foreign ministry said the strikes aimed to block their work.
“The timing of the aggression coincides with the arrival of the OPCW mission to Syria to investigate the alleged chemical attack in Douma, and mainly aims at hindering the mission’s work and preempting its results,” it said in comments carried by state news agency SANA.
The ministry said it was an “attempt to block the exposure of their lies and fabrications.”
No Filipinos harmed
The Philippine embassy in Damascus has not received any reports of Filipino casualties in the missile attacks against Syria.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is monitoring the situation in Syria in the wake of the missile strikes against various targets in Damascus and other areas, Assistant Secretary Elmer Cato said on Saturday.
“We are in touch with the Philippine Embassy which is now checking on the condition of the more than 1,000 of our kababayan (compatriots) in Damascus,” Cato said in a text message.
He said the attacks targeted military camps in and around Damascus, including one installation located about one kilometer from the Philippine embassy.
He said that the embassy has been contacting members of the Filipino community to check their situation since the missile strikes began around 4 a.m. Damascus time.
“The embassy also has not received any requests for assistance from any of the estimated 500 Filipinos in Damascus and the other 500 in other parts of Syria,” Cato said.
The remaining Filipinos in Syria are mostly spouses of Syrian nationals and household service workers, he said.
The embassy has reported that at least three military installations in Damascus and several other areas in Syria were targeted in this morning’s missile attacks.
“It was like New Year in Manila,” Cato said quoting Ambassador Crescente Relacion in describing what he said
was the more or less one hour missile barrage.
“The embassy has issued an advisory requesting our kababayan (compatriots) to stay in their homes until further advise,” Cato said.
The embassy had issued advisories to the members of the Filipino community as early as April 8 in anticipation of a military action against Syria following the alleged chemical attack in Douma, and the mortar shelling of certain parts of Damascus in recent weeks.
All personnel of the Philippine embassy in Damascus led by Relacion are safe and accounted for. There were 17,000 Filipinos in Syria when the civil war erupted in 2011.
Syria has remained under crisis alert level 4 since then. A labor deployment ban also remains in place.
with BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO