Report: Assad tells Russian lawmakers Western strikes were act of aggression

Russian lawmakers met with Assad after the United States, France and Britain launched missile strikes on Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack a week ago.

Demonstrators take part in a protest against the US bombing of Syria in front of the White House on 14 April 2018 in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP.

MOSCOW - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a group of Russian lawmakers on Sunday that Western missile strikes on his country were an act of aggression, Russian news agencies reported.

Russian lawmakers met with Assad after the United States, France and Britain launched missile strikes on Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack a week ago.

Russian news agencies quoted the lawmakers as saying Assad was in a “good mood” and had praised the Soviet-era air defence systems used by Syria to help to repel the Western attacks.

The supply of Russian air defence systems was not discussed, agencies reported, but Assad accepted an invitation to visit the Siberian region of Khanty-Mansi in Russia. It was not clear when the visit would take place.

WATCH: Strikes 'crippled' Syria's chemical weapons programme: Pentagon

Meanwhile, the leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, said on Sunday that the legal basis used to support British air strikes in Syria was debatable, adding that he would only support action backed by the United Nations Security Council.

“I say to the foreign secretary, I say to the prime minister, where is the legal basis for this?” Corbyn said.

“The legal basis ... would have to be self defence or the authority of the UN Security Council. The humanitarian intervention is a legally debatable concept at the present time,” he said in an interview with the BBC.


With the latest US missile strikes, President Donald Trump appears to have reset America’s red line for military intervention in Syria over the use of chemical weapons.

What’s unclear is where that red line now stands.

The United States said its strikes were a response to al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack that administration officials say employed chlorine and perhaps even sarin, a more deadly nerve agent.

“A large body of information indicates that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council on Saturday.

Sarin had previously appeared to be the threshold for intervention. A sarin attack triggered Trump’s decision last year to strike a Syrian air base. A sarin attack in 2013 was also what nearly brought then-President Barack Obama to strike Syria.

Chlorine, in contrast, has been used more widely in Syria’s conflict without past US reprisals, and the chemical itself is far easier to find and weaponize, experts say. That makes degrading it through military strikes far more difficult.

“Every city in the Middle East that has a water purification system probably has some chlorine. It is a common industrial chemical,” said Daryl Kimball at the Washington-based Arms Control Association, who favors broad action to deter use of chemical weapons, including chlorine.

As of Saturday, it was unclear whether another chlorine attack would be enough to trigger more U.S strikes, or whether the death toll would need to be high enough or whether - as was the case on 7 April - sarin use would also need to be a possibility.

Or perhaps there would need to be a series of violations, as was the case before 7 April, prior to any US action.

The Trump administration offered veiled threats on Saturday about future military action and mixed remarks about the degree to which it believed sarin was used by Syria’s government, which denies it used chemical weapons.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was only certain about intelligence that chlorine gas was used by Assad’s forces on 7 April before America’s strikes on Syria.

He did not rule out sarin use.

Vice President Mike Pence also said Trump carried out the strikes armed with U.S. intelligence that at “a minimum it was the chemical weapon of chlorine,” noting investigators still might prove sarin was used.

A different Trump administration official, briefing reporters, said the United States assessed that sarin was also used in the 7 April attack but suggested that US information on sarin came from analysis of reports from news media and other public sources of information, as opposed to US intelligence.