Assad allies vow to keep battling ‘terrorism’ in Syria
General Valery Gerasimov and Major General Mohammad Bagheri spoke by phone and “condemned the American operation against a Syrian airbase which is an aggression against an independent country”, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said.
US warships in the Mediterranean launched a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat airbase in Syria early on Friday, after 87 people including 31 children were killed in a suspected aerial chemical attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhun.
Another air strike on Saturday on the same town in the northwestern province of Idlib killed a woman, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
It said it was unclear if the latest strike was by Syrian warplanes or those of Damascus’s ally Russia.
The monitor also reported an air strike on Urum al-Joz, another Idlib town, on Saturday that killed 18 civilians including five children.
The Observatory said the Urum al-Joz raid was believed to have been carried out by Russian aircraft.
Idlib province is controlled by a rebel alliance that includes a former Al-Qaeda affiliate, and is regularly targeted by both the Syrian government and its Russian ally.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of “playing the terrorism game”, during his first phone talks with his US counterpart Rex Tillerson since the US air strikes on Syria.
A foreign ministry statement said Lavrov also reaffirmed Russia’s position that accusations that the Syrian regime had launched a chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun “are not in line with reality”.
– ‘Intolerable aggression’ –
Much of the international community accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government of responsibility for Tuesday’s suspected chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun, though Damascus denied responsibility.
The strike prompted Washington to take its first direct military action against Assad’s government, with missiles raining down on the Shayrat airbase in central Syria.
North Korea on Saturday denounced the American attack, calling it an “intolerable act of aggression” that “proves a million times over” that strengthening its nuclear programme was the right choice.
The statement by the Iranian and Russian military chiefs said they both vowed to continue their military cooperation in support of Assad “until the total defeat of the terrorists and those that support them”, according to Iran’s Mehr news agency.
The American strikes “aim at slowing the victories of the Syrian army and its allies, and reinforcing terrorist groups”, they said in a statement.
Iran and Russia are Assad’s closest allies, and label all opponents of his regime as “terrorists”.
Both Tehran and Moscow have defended Assad against Western allegations that his regime carried out the suspected chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhun.
– ‘Terrorists celebrating’ –
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Saturday criticised his US counterpart Donald Trump for the missile attack on the Syrian airbase.
“This man who is now in office in America claimed that he wanted to fight terrorism but today all terrorists in Syria are celebrating the US attack,” he said.
As the Arab League on Saturday warned against a “dangerous escalation” in Syria, influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr called on Assad to step down and on Washington and Moscow to stop intervening in the conflict.
“I would consider it fair for President Bashar al-Assad to resign and leave power, allowing the dear people of Syria to avoid the scourge of war and terrorist oppression,” he said.
Several Iraqi Shiite militias, some of them directly supported by Iran, are helping Assad’s camp in the Syria conflict by sending fighting units across the border.
On the political front, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cancelled a scheduled visit to Moscow next week, his office announced, saying “developments in Syria have changed the situation fundamentally”.
In Syria on Saturday, hundreds more Syrian rebels and their families left the last opposition-held neighbourhood of the central city of Homs, the state news agency reported.
SANA said at least 242 rebels had left Waer along with their families under a deal granting them safe passage to opposition-held territory elsewhere in the country.
More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government demonstrations.
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