Russia warned on Friday that U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base could have “extremely serious” consequences, as President Donald Trump’s first major foray into a foreign conflict opened up a rift between Moscow and Washington. The warships USS Porter and USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles that hit the airstrip, aircraft and fuel stations of Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon says was involved in a chemical weapons attack this week. It was Trump’s biggest foreign policy decision since taking office in January and the kind of direct intervention in Syria’s six-year-old civil war his predecessor Barack Obama avoided. The strikes were in reaction to what Washington says was a poison gas attack by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that killed at least 70 people in rebel-held territory.
The UN’s human rights chief has described the Syrian conflict as the “worst man-made disaster since World War II,” citing widespread torture and a “tidal wave of bloodshed and atrocity.” “Today, in a sense the entire country has become a torture chamber: a place of savage horror and absolute injustice”, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ZeidRa’ad al-Hussein said in a statement on March 14. He called for the release of tens of thousands of prisoners being held by the warring sides in Syria and said that bringing the perpetrators of crimes, including torture, to justice was necessary for reaching a lasting peace. Zeid also said efforts to end “this senseless carnage” had been repeatedly vetoed, an apparent reference to Russia and China’s steps to protect President Bashar al-Assad by blocking Western-backed UN Security Council resolutions.
Liberating Syria’s northern city of Raqqa, a Daesh stronghold, is not a top priority for the Syrian government, even though it is on the list of important objectives, Syrian President Bashar Assad said. He stressed that Raqqa is “no more than a symbol of the Islamic State [Daesh]”, and that “the IS [Daesh] is present everywhere” – near Damascus, in Palmyra, eastern Syria. Priorities are everywhere. And they depend on the military development. But for us everything is important — Raqqa, Idlib, Palmyra”, Assad told French radio station Europe1 in an interview published on Thursday.