‘Mission accomplished’, says Trump after unleashing 105 missile strikes on Assad regime positions

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A Syrian firefighter inside the shattered Scientific Research Center in Damascus. (Reuters)
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US President Donald Trump addresses the nation on the situation in Syria April 13, 2018 at the White House in Washington, DC. (AFP / Mandel Ngan)
Updated 15 April 2018
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‘Mission accomplished’, says Trump after unleashing 105 missile strikes on Assad regime positions

  • Russia claims Syrian air defenses had intercepted 71 of the 105 missiles fired
  • The prime target of the operation was the Barza Research and Development Center in the greater Damascus area

WASHINGTON: While describing Saturday's missile strikes in Syria as a "mission accomplished," US President Donald Trump warned that America and its allies would not hesitate to take further action should the "barbaric" Assad regime use chemical weapons again on its foes.
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” the US president said in a televised address.
US, British and French forces hit Syria with more than 100 missiles in the early hours of Saturday in the first coordinated Western strikes against the Damascus government, targeting what they said were chemical weapons sites in retaliation for a suspected poison
gas attack.
In a statement from the White House, Trump said the three allies had “marshaled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality”. Later he tweeted: “Mission accomplished.”
His choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with President George W. Bush following the US-led invasion of Iraq. Bush addressed sailors aboard a ship in May 2003 alongside a “Mission Accomplished” banner, just weeks before it became apparent that Iraqis had organized an insurgency that tied down US forces for years.
The Syria strikes represent a major escalation in the West’s confrontation with President Bashar Assad’s superpower ally Russia, but is unlikely to alter the course of a multi-sided war that has killed at least half a million people in the past seven years. That, in turn, raises the question of where Western countries go from here, after a volley of missile strikes denounced by Damascus and Moscow as both reckless and pointless.
There were no immediate reports of casualties and Damascus’ allies said the buildings hit had been evacuated in advance.
Russia had promised to respond to any attack on its ally and said on Saturday that Syrian air defenses had intercepted 71 of the 105 missiles fired. But the Pentagon said the US had “deconfliction” contacts with Russia before and after the strikes, that Syrian air defense systems had been largely ineffective, and there was no indication that Russian systems had been employed.
Washington described its targets as a center near Damascus for the research, production and testing of chemical and biological weapons, a chemical weapons storage site near the city of Homs, and another site near Homs that stored chemical weapons equipment and housed a command post.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the strikes a “one-time shot,” although Trump raised the prospect of further strikes if Assad’s government used chemical weapons again.
The Pentagon said there had been chemical weapons agents at one of the targets, and that although there were other parts to Syria’s chemical weapons system, the strikes had significantly limited its ability to produce such weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss what Moscow decried as an unjustified attack on a sovereign state.


Inspectors from the global chemical weapons watchdog the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were due to visit Douma later on Saturday to inspect the site of the suspected gas attack on April 7. Moscow condemned the Western states for refusing to wait for their findings.
Russia, whose relations with the West have deteriorated to levels of Cold War-era hostility, has denied any gas attack took place and even accused Britain of staging the assault to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.
But despite responding outwardly with fury to Saturday’s attack, Damascus and its allies also made clear that they considered it a one-off, unlikely to seriously harm Assad. A senior official in a regional alliance that backs Damascus told Reuters the sites that were targeted had been evacuated days ago after a warning from Russia.
In Douma, site of the suspected gas attack, the last buses were due on Saturday to transport rebels and their families who agreed to surrender the town, state TV reported. That effectively ends all resistance in the suburbs of Damascus known as Eastern Ghouta, marking one of the biggest victories for Assad’s government of the entire war.
Russian and Iranian military help in the past three years has let Assad crush the rebel threat to topple him.
The US, Britain and France have all participated in the Syrian conflict for years, arming rebels, bombing Daesh fighters and deploying troops on the ground to fight the extremists. But they have refrained from targeting Assad’s government, apart from a volley of US missiles last year.
The Pentagon said on Saturday that US strikes in Syria overnight had successfully hit every target and significantly limited Assad’s ability to produce chemical weapons.
Although the operation was secretly unfolding for hours before the first impact, the strike by 105 precision-guided missile on three Syrian chemical weapons targets lasted only minutes, officials said.
Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Joint Staff, rejected assertions from Russia and Syria that scores of the Western missiles were shot down. He said Russian air defenses did not fire, while Syrian air defenses were ineffective against an attack from multiple directions involving not only US, British and French aircraft but also US naval destroyers, a cruiser and French frigate and even a US submarine.
The Syrian air defenses missed the incoming missiles and kept firing even after the last US, British and French strikes were complete.
 Some of the 40 Syrian missile interceptors might have hit civilian targets, he said.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White warned that Russia was attempting to sow confusion about the attack. “The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun. There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the past 24 hours,” she said.
The prime target of the operation was the Barza Research and Development Center in the greater Damascus area, which McKenzie said was “one of the most heavily defended aerospace areas in the world.”
Barza took the brunt of the attack, with 57 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 19 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff missiles.
Before sunrise on Saturday, loud explosions jolted Damascus and the sky turned orange as Syrian air defense units fired surface-to-air missiles in response to three waves of military strikes.
Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and what appeared to be a flame lighting up the sky. From a distance, US missiles hitting suburbs of the capital sounded like thunder.
Shortly after the one-hour attack ended, vehicles with loudspeakers took to the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.
The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump’s second order to attack Syria.
He authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad’s use of sarin gas against civilians.


Egypt restricts yellow vests sales to avoid copycat protests

Updated 42 min 48 sec ago
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Egypt restricts yellow vests sales to avoid copycat protests

  • Egypt has virtually banned protests, and the general-turned-president El-Sisi often warns that his tough hand ensuring stability is necessary
  • The yellow vests worn by French protesters have become the symbol of the wave of demonstrations that began in November

CAIRO: Egyptian authorities have quietly introduced restrictions on the sale of yellow reflective vests, fearing opponents might attempt to copy French protesters during next month’s anniversary of the 2011 popular uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak, security officials and retailers said Monday.
They said industrial safety equipment dealers have been instructed not to sell yellow vests to walk-in buyers and to restrict business to wholesale sales to verified companies, but only after securing police permission. They were told offenders would be punished, the officials said without elaborating.
Six retailers in a Cairo downtown area where industrial safety stores are concentrated said they were no longer selling yellow vests. Two declined to sell them, giving no explanation, but the remaining four told The Associated Press they were told not to by police.
“They seem not to want anyone to do what they are doing in France,” said one retailer. “The police came here a few days back and told us to stop selling them. When we asked why, they said they were acting on instructions,” said another. Both spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Security officials said the restrictions would remain in force until the end of January. They said industrial safety product importers and wholesale merchants were summoned to a meeting with senior police officers in Cairo this week and informed of the rules.
The officials, who have first-hand knowledge of the measures, spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media. Repeated calls and messages to the spokesman of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police, to seek comment went unanswered.
The move showcases the depth of the Egyptian government’s concern with security. The past two years, Egyptian authorities clamped down heavily, deploying police and soldiers across the country, to prevent any marches to commemorate the Jan. 25 anniversary of the start of the 2011 uprising. Scores were killed and wounded in clashes during the uprising anniversaries in years before that.
The yellow vests worn by French protesters have become the symbol of the wave of demonstrations that began in November against a rise in fuel taxes but mushroomed to include a range of demands, including the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron.
Egyptian media coverage of the unrest has emphasized the ensuing riots, looting and arson in Paris, echoing President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s frequent refrain that street action leads to chaos. He recently outright denounced for the first time the 2011 uprising, saying it plunged the country into economic and political turmoil.
Egypt has virtually banned protests, and the general-turned-president El-Sisi often warns that his tough hand ensuring stability is necessary, pointing to war and destruction in Syria, Yemen and Libya as the alternative. His emphasis on security has taken on added significance amid his ambitious program to reform the economy, which has unleashed steep price hikes, hitting the middle class hard.
Since El-Sisi rose to office in 2014, there have been no significant protests. Still, the government is constantly wary they could return, especially given that the 2011 protests erupted as part of a chain reaction, inspired by Tunisia’s “Arab Spring” uprising.
Rights lawyer Gamal Eid said his Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information has seen a recent spike in small “social protests,” with the privatization of state-owned enterprises the main issue.
“The government here is talking up its achievements, but it fears a backlash because ordinary people have yet to tangibly benefit from the mega projects underway,” said Eid, who is banned by authorities from traveling while his group’s online site is blocked by the government.
Negad Borai, another rights lawyer, said the government could delay expected price hikes next year “to avoid protests inspired by what’s happening in France.”
El-Sisi led the military’s 2013 ouster of a freely elected but divisive president. He was elected in 2014 and, earlier this year, won a second-term, running virtually unopposed. He has overseen the largest crackdown on critics seen in Egypt in living memory, jailing thousands of Islamists along with pro-democracy activists, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 uprising, silencing critics and placing draconian rules on rights groups.