While the western community has been broadly supportive of the overnight strikes launched against Syria by the US, UK and France, two prominent members have either refused to participate or outright oppose them.
As we first reported last week, Germany (along with Italy) refused to be an active member of the strikes. On Saturday morning, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the country won’t participate in military actions against Syria, according to an interview in news magazine Spiegel.
“This is not the role that we – in coordination with our partners – want to play in this conflict.” Although, he added that he understands the view of French President Emmanuel Macron, who said use of chemical weapons “crosses a line” and added that “The use of chemical weapons must stop and can’t be without consequences.”
Angela Merkel was similarly supportive: “We support that our American, British and French allies, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, have taken responsibility in this way,” the Chancellor said in statement… just not enough to take part in the strikes that she knew would prompt a response from Putin.
Italy also rushed to made it clear to the Kremlin it was not an active participant: Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in a televised address that the reaction to alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria was measured, and should not mark the beginning of escalation in the region. He then added that while Italy is an ally of the participants, the country didn’t participate; and while Italy usually gives logistical help, in this case Italy did not provide.
Perhaps the reason for this reticence is that the two nations most reliant on Russian nat gas imports, realized that they don’t want to be especially cold this coming winter.
Meanwhile, China was less diplomatic and shortly after the strikes began, Beijing voiced opposition to US-led air strikes against Syrian military targets on Saturday and called for talks, adding that the Western operation had complicated efforts to find a solution to the crisis.
“Any unilateral military action violates the United Nations charter and its principles and international law and its principles. [The strikes] are also going to add more factors to complicate the resolution of the Syrian crisis,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.
Beijing also called for an investigation into claims of a Syrian poison gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma that rescuers and monitors say killed more than 40 people, and prompted the Western action.
“The Chinese side believes a comprehensive, impartial and objective investigation should be conducted into the suspected chemical attacks and it should come up with reliable conclusions … Before this, no conclusion by any side should be made,” Hua said.
Hua also said the Chinese embassy in Damascus was in close contact with Chinese citizens in the country. “So far they are all safe,” she said.
Beijing was reacting to air strikes launched by the United States, Britain and France carried out on what the US said were three chemical weapons facilities – one scientific facility near Damascus and two storage facilities near Homs. A total of more than 100 missiles were fired and the air strikes lasted no more than 70 minutes.
On Saturday morning, Trump tweeted: “Mission Completed”, and thanked Britain and France for the “perfectly executed strike”.
Announcing the strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, US President Donald Trump branded last week’s alleged poison gas attack the “crimes of a monster”.
A few minutes later, an AFP correspondent in Damascus heard a series of huge blasts and residents rushed to their balconies. For around 45 minutes, explosions echoed and the sound of warplanes roared over the city, as flashes flared in the distance.
Syrian state media reported only three people injured and Russia’s defence ministry said there were “no victims” among Syrian civilians and military personnel. Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said no additional strikes were planned. “Right now this is a one-time shot,” he said.
Syria’s regime, which has repeatedly denied any use of chemical weapons, immediately denounced the strikes as “brutal, barbaric aggression” that was “doomed to fail”.
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On Saturday, Russia said it was calling an emergency session of the UN Security Council to discuss the “aggressive actions” of the United States and its allies. “Without the sanction of the UN Security Council, in breach of the UN charter and the norms and principles of international law, an act of aggression was committed against a sovereign state,” the Kremlin said.
Inspectors with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were due later Saturday to start work on a probe into the events of April 7 in Douma, the last rebel-held pocket of the onetime opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for calm, delaying 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,” he said in a statement.
Beijing-based military analyst Li Jie said Beijing should stand with Russia as tensions rose between China and the United States.
“In this case, I think Beijing should stand firmly with Russia over the Syria issue. China is unlikely to send troops to Syria, but China would be on the same page as Russia when it comes to issues like supporting the Syrian government,” Li said.