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After air strikes, what happens now in Syria? What we know so far

A handout photo, released by the U.S. Navy, shows the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey firing a Tomahawk land attack missile at Syria.

U.S. Navy/Getty Images

The latest

  • A UN security team came under fire in the Syrian town of Douma, an official with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Wednesday, as the watchdog’s search for clues of Syria's alleged use of poison gas faced more roadblocks and threats.
  • Dozens of deaths in Douma, which Syrian government forces took back from rebels on April 7, were the catalyst for Western air strikes targeting Syria over the weekend, aimed at facilities that the United States, Britain and France say were crucial to the al-Assad regime’s weapons program.
  • But those air strikes may have had an underwhelming effect than advertised: Four U.S. officials, speaking with Reuters on condition of anonymity, said that available intelligence suggested President Bashar al-Assad's stock of chemicals and precursors was believed to be scattered far beyond the targets hit.
  • Syria’s biggest ally, Russia – whose president, Vladimir Putin, condemned the air strikes as an "act of aggression" – could also face new U.S. economic sanctions. But U.S. President Donald Trump and his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, have been publicly at odds about when this would happen. Initial reports suggested new measures were coming on Monday, but by Wednesday, Mr. Trump said he’d hit Moscow with new sanctions “as soon as they very much deserve it.”
In a statement Friday night, U.S. President Donald Trump outlined strikes being carried out against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad after a chemical weapon attack earlier in the week.

How the attack happened

Syria strikes: WHAT WE KNOW

The U.S., Britain and France launched coordinated strikes against targets within Syria in response to the alleged Douma chemical weapons attack by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad

Alleged chemical

weapons facilities

Rebel-held

areas

Islamic State

Hama

Homs

T4

Shayrat

LEBANON

SYRIA

Med.

Sea

Dumayr

Mezzeh

Marj Ruhayyil

Damascus

0

100

ISRAEL

KM

Homs: Four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s launch Storm Shadow fire-and-forget missiles at storage facility 24km west of Homs

Homs: French Mirage and Rafale fighter jets attack chemical weapons equipment storage and command and control centre at Shayrat

Zabadani

Dumayr

Jamraya

Barzeh

LEBANON

Dumayr airbase

Douma

DAMASCUS

Mezzeh

airbase

Damascus

International

Airport

SYRIA

Marj

Ruhayyil

airbase

0

15

KM

Damascus: Guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser fire cruise missiles at Centre d’Études et de Recherches Scientifiques in suburb of Jamraya. Storage facility and command centre at Barzeh also attacked

the globe and mail, Sources: graphic news via Reuters; Pentagon; IICT; AFP; Google Earth

Syria strikes: WHAT WE KNOW

The U.S., Britain and France launched coordinated strikes against targets within Syria in response to the alleged Douma chemical weapons attack by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad

Alleged chemical

weapons facilities

Rebel-held

areas

Islamic State

Homs: Four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s launch Storm Shadow fire-and-forget missiles at storage facility 24km west of Homs

Hama

Homs

T4

Shayrat

LEBANON

SYRIA

Med.

Sea

Dumayr

Homs: French Mirage and Rafale fighter jets attack chemical weapons equipment storage and command and control centre at Shayrat

Mezzeh

Marj Ruhayyil

Damascus

0

100

ISRAEL

KM

Zabadani

Dumayr

Jamraya

Dumayr airbase

Barzeh

LEBANON

Douma

DAMASCUS

April 7: Suspected

chemical attack on town of Douma leaves estimated

70 people dead

Mezzeh

airbase

SYRIA

Damascus

International

Airport

Marj

Ruhayyil

airbase

0

15

KM

Damascus: Guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser fire cruise missiles at Centre d’Études et de Recherches Scientifiques in suburb of Jamraya. Storage facility and command centre at Barzeh also attacked

the globe and mail, Sources: graphic news via Reuters; Pentagon; IICT; AFP; Google Earth

What we know about the Syria strikes

The U.S., Britain and France launched coordinated strikes against targets

within Syria in response to the alleged Douma chemical weapons attack

by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad

Alleged chemical

weapons facilities

Rebel-held

areas

Islamic State

Hama

Centre d’Études et de

Recherches Scientifiques

alleged chemical and biological weapons research facility

Homs

T4

Shayrat

LEBANON

SYRIA

Med.

Sea

Dumayr

Mezzeh

Marj Ruhayyil

Damascus

0

100

ISRAEL

KM

Homs: Four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s launch Storm Shadow fire-and-forget missiles at storage facility 24km west of Homs

Homs: French Mirage and Rafale fighter jets attack chemical weapons equipment storage and command and control centre at Shayrat

Zabadani

Dumayr

Jamraya

Dumayr airbase

Douma

Barzeh

LEBANON

April 7: Suspected

chemical attack on

town of Douma

leaves estimated

70 people dead

DAMASCUS

Mezzeh

airbase

Damascus

International

Airport

Damascus: Guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser fire cruise missiles at Centre d’Études et de Recherches Scientifiques in suburb of Jamraya. Storage facility and command centre at Barzeh also attacked

0

15

KM

Marj

Ruhayyil

airbase

the globe and mail, Sources: graphic news via Reuters; Pentagon; IICT; AFP; Google Earth

When and where: After days of deliberation about how to respond to the Douma incident, the United States and its allies, Britain and France, fired more than 100 missiles at Syria early Saturday. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Marine General Joseph Dunford said three main chemical weapons facilities were targeted by missiles from both the sea and aircraft. Syrian air defences were triggered, and while the Russian military claimed the Syrians shot down 71 missiles, that claim was impossible to verify.

Chemical facilities hit: The Pentagon said one of the targets was a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area, which it described as a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological weaponry. The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs: “We assess that this was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment,” Gen. Dunford said. The third target, also near Homs, contained both a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and a command post.

Military facilities hit: Sites hit by Saturday’s strikes included an air base west of Damascus near the Lebanese border, a commander in the regional military alliance that backs President Bashar al-Assad said. The targeted al-Shirai air base is located in al-Dimas, the commander told Reuters. The attack also hit a site in Masyaf, about 170 kilometres north of Damascus, army depots in the eastern Qalamoun region northeast of the capital, the Kisweh area south of Damascus, and a site in the Qasyoun hills overlooking the capital.

In a photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, protesters wave flags and portraits of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus's Omayyad Square on April 16, 2018.

The Associated Press

Syria and Russia’s response

Al-Assad plays it cool: Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, strongly condemned the attacks, but his regime focused on sending a message that the air strikes hadn’t affected it much at all. At 9 a.m. local time, hours after the air strikes, a presidential Twitter account posted a video of Mr. al-Assad walking to work as usual.

An image grab taken from a video released by the official Twitter page of the Syrian Presidency shows President Bashar al-Assad walking into an administrative building in Damascus.

HANDOUT/Getty Images

Putin’s heated reply: Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. and its allies of violating international law. “Through its actions, the U.S. makes the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria even worse and brings suffering to civilians,” Mr. Putin said.

Military strategy: The Western attack on Syria on Saturday will not have any impact on the Syrian army’s resolve to press the fight against militants and restore control of the entire country, the Syrian foreign ministry said. “The barbaric aggression ... will not affect in any way the determination and insistence of the Syrian people and their heroic armed forces,” state news agency SANA cited an official source in the ministry as saying.

UN investigation: Syria is “fully ready” to co-operate with a fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Faisal Mekdad, Syria’s deputy foreign minister, said Monday. He added that government officials had met with the delegation a number of times to discuss co-operation.

Moscow’s theories: Since before the air strikes began, Russian officials have floated a theory that the Douma attack was fabricated with the help of a foreign intelligence agency. On April 13, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov claimed Moscow has “irrefutable information that it was another fabrication.” Later that day, a Defence Ministry spokesman went even further, accusing Britain of staging the Douma attack. (U.K.-Russian relations are at a historic low over Russia’s suspected role in poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. The British government found they were exposed to a Soviet-era nerve agent and say Russian agents were behind the poisoning.)

Chemical weapons and the Douma incident

Chemical weapons have a long and bloody history in Syria’s seven-year-old civil war, in which rebel forces have sought to overthrow Mr. al-Assad’s government. Chemical attacks have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict in 2011, with the UN blaming four attacks on the Syrian government and a fifth on the Islamic State group.

The most recent alleged attack took place on April 7 in Douma, a town in the eastern Ghouta region, then held by the rebel group Jaish al-Islam. The Syrian military had reclaimed much of Ghouta from rebel forces in an offensive that began in February. After Saturday’s attack, medical-relief and human-rights groups gave various accounts of the weapons used: One said a chlorine bomb hit the Douma hospital and a second attack including nerve agents hit a nearby building. Images released by the Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets, a volunteer organization, showed children lying on the ground motionless and foaming at the mouth.

April. 8, 2018: Video released by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets shows medical workers treating toddlers following an alleged poison gas attack.

The Associated Press

About 500 people in Douma were treated for “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals,” the World Health Organization said on April 11. In the days that followed, France’s President Emmanuel Macron said his government had proof that chlorine gas was used. Mr. Mattis, the U.S. Defence Secretary, said Washington was “very confident that chlorine was used,” but that evidence of sarin gas was inconclusive.

What really happened in Douma is still to be investigated by the UN-led chemical weapons watchdog, which dispatched officials to Syria but was only granted entry to the town on April 17. For now, the facts of the Douma situation are more hotly disputed than another incident a year ago, in which U.S. intelligence agencies had video and other evidence of certain aspects of the actual attack, which involved the use of sarin gas. Mr. Trump responded then by launching Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian air field.

SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS ACTIVITY SINCE AUGUST 2013

The suspected chemical attack in Douma – the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta – is the latest in a string of similar deadly assaults since an attack in August 2013 that killed more than 1,400 people towns of Ain Tarma, Jobar, Muadamiya and Zamalka

TURKEY

Kobane

Aleppo

Idlib

Latakia

SYRIA

Hama

Homs

Palmyra

Jobar/Ain Tarma

Zamalka

LEBANON

Douma

Nerve agent

Chlorine

Ghouta

Mustard gas

Phosphorus

Damascus

Other

chemical

weapon

Muadamiya

0

100

KM

JORDAN

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS

SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS ACTIVITY

SINCE AUGUST 2013

The suspected chemical attack in Douma – the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta – is the latest in a string of similar deadly assaults since an attack in August 2013 that killed more than 1,400 people in towns of Ain Tarma, Jobar, Muadamiya and Zamalka

TURKEY

Kobane

Aleppo

Idlib

Latakia

SYRIA

Hama

Homs

Palmyra

Mediterranean

Sea

Jobar/Ain Tarma

Zamalka

LEBANON

Douma

Nerve agent

Chlorine

Ghouta

Mustard gas

Phosphorus

Damascus

Other

chemical

weapon

Muadamiya

ISRAEL

0

100

KM

JORDAN

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS

SYRIA’S CHEMICAL WEAPONS ACTIVITY SINCE AUGUST 2013

The suspected chemical attack in Douma – the last rebel-held town in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta – is the latest in a string of similar deadly assaults since an attack in August 2013 that killed more than 1,400 people in towns of Ain Tarma, Jobar, Muadamiya and Zamalka

TURKEY

Kobane

Aleppo

Raqqa

Idlib

Latakia

Deir al-Zour

SYRIA

Hama

Homs

Palmyra

Mediterranean

Sea

Jobar/Ain Tarma

Zamalka

LEBANON

Douma

0

100

KM

Ghouta

Damascus

Nerve agent

Muadamiya

Chlorine

Mustard gas

ISRAEL

Phosphorus

Other chemical weapon

JORDAN

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS

Background: The U.S., Trump and Syria

Syria’s civil war has evolved in recent years into a proxy conflict between Washington, which has condemned Mr. al-Assad’s government for chemical weapons and other human-rights abuses, and Russia, whose military and economic ties to Syria date back to the Soviet era and the presidency of Mr. al-Assad’s father, Hafez.

U.S. president Barack Obama famously drew a “red line” in Syria, suggesting he would take military action if chemical weapons were used there, as they were in August, 2013, in a sarin gas attack in Damascus. Mr. Obama sought and failed to got Congress’s approval for military intervention, but then brokered a deal with Russia to dismantle the Syrian chemical arsenal.

Mr. Trump – who has long professed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, has supported closer U.S. ties with Russia and faces an FBI-led investigation into his presidential campaign’s Russian connections – originally stated a willingness to work with Mr. Putin and Mr. al-Assad in combatting Islamic State. But in the past year, Mr. Trump has made an about-face on Syria and Russia: In April, 2017, after a deadly chemical-weapons attack on rebel forces in Khan Sheikhoun, Mr. Trump authorized the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles against a Syrian air base, and suggested days afterward that the U.S.-Russian relationship was “at an all-time low.”

Mr. Trump has also used fraying ties with Russia to take shots at special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into contacts between Russian officials and Trump campaign staff. About an hour after his Wednesday tweet about air strikes, Mr. Trump tweeted that the Mueller probe was to blame for “bad blood” between the two countries.

Where the UN stands

The standoff between Russia, the U.S. and their respective allies has paralyzed the global body, which has met four times in the week leading up to the air strikes to discuss chemical weapons in Syria. Hours after the air strikes, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting at Russia’s behest, but rejected a Russian resolution to condemn “the aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic by the U.S. and its allies in violation of international law and the UN Charter.”

Agreeing on who was responsible for the Douma incident has been no easier. On April 10, rival U.S. and Russian resolutions on the issue were defeated. First, Russia vetoed a U.S.-drafted resolution that would have condemned the Douma attack in the strongest terms and established a new independent and impartial investigative body to determine responsibility for Syrian chemical attacks. A Russian-drafted resolution, also voted down, would have allowed Moscow to choose the investigators and assess the outcome of the investigation.

April 16, 2018: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/Getty Images

Where Canada stands

After the air strikes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement that Canada stands with its allies and that it supports the decision “to take action to degrade the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people.” He reiterated that Canada condemns the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta.

Asked about the air strikes on his three-day visit to Peru, Mr. Trudeau said that Washington had notified the Canadian government of the air strikes before they began, but did not ask Canada to participate.

Mr. Trudeau had ruled out a new Canadian military involvement in Syria days before the air strikes took place, telling Radio-Canada that it is already busy with a planned deployment to Mali and ongoing missions in Latvia and northern Iraq. He added, though, that Canada was working on humanitarian aid and diplomatic efforts to help resolve the Syrian conflict.

April 12, 2018: A man in Moscow looks at a computer screen, displaying a web page in Russian cyrillic script with a man waving what appears to be a Syrian flag over a building in the Syrian town of Douma.

YURI KADOBNOV/Getty Images

What happens next in Douma?

Evacuation deal: Russian military police are now in eastern Ghouta to oversee an evacuation deal with the rebel forces. In exchange for the rebels exiting the region, no Syrian troops are expected to go into Douma, only police. Another police force incorporating former rebels is also to be formed and deployed in Douma. Evacuation of armed gunmen and civilians who refuse the deal is still under way. The evacuation deal called for the formation of a local council to administer Douma. Thousands of civilians are staying in Douma, and some fighters are also expected to stay, on condition that they hand in their weapons.

Fact-finding mission: Envoys from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Syria a day before the U.S.-led air strikes, but their visit to Douma has been a dangerous one, with UN security forces coming under attack during the OPCW team’s inspection. Syrian officials have said the government will co-operate with the probe to determine whether and which poison gases were used in the town.

Associated Press and Reuters, with reports from Mark MacKinnon, Adrian Morrow, Paul Waldie, Evan Annett, Mayaz Alam and The Canadian Press

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