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Russia Says U.S. Broke International Law In Striking Syria, Citing ‘Pretext’

Russia blamed the strike on “speculations on children’s photos.” At a U.N. Security Council meeting, the U.K. ambassador said Russia was “humiliated by its failure to bring to heel a puppet dictator.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is calling the missile strike President Trump ordered against Syria on Thursday “an act of aggression against a sovereign state delivered in violation of international law under a far-fetched pretext,” the Kremlin says.

At Russia’s urging, an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council began shortly after 11:30 a.m. ET Friday to discuss the attack, in which two U.S. guided-missile destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat air base, the facility that hosted warplanes that the U.S. says carried out a chemical weapons strike in Idlib province earlier this week.

In the Security Council session, the U.K. ambassador to the United Nations, Matthew Rycroft, said his country supports the U.S. strike “because war crimes have consequences, and the greatest war criminal of all — Bashar al-Assad — has now been put on notice.”

Rycroft called the U.S. attack a proportionate response. Later, he added that Russia “sits here today, humiliated by its failure to bring to heel a puppet dictator.”

But the U.S. strike was criticized as an extremely serious violation of international law by Bolivian Ambassador Sacha Llorenti, who referred to a copy of the U.N. charter as he said it “prohibits unilateral actions.”

Llorenti also said the U.S. has a history of intervening in other nations, including in Latin America — and he held up a photo of former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2003, during his famous “weapons of mass destruction” speech at the U.N., to illustrate his argument.

Before the U.N. session began, Russia notified the U.S.-led coalition in Syria that it intends to suspend the “deconfliction channel” that was created to prevent unintentional encounters between U.S. and Russian forces that are operating in the same country.

Tuesday’s attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun has been blamed for dozens of civilian deaths. Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. has “very high confidence” that the attacks included the sarin nerve agent.

Syrian President Bashar Assad’s office issued a statement calling the U.S. strike “an unjust and arrogant aggression.”

Of Trump’s justification for the attack on Russia’s ally — saying Syria used chemical weapons to kill dozens of its own citizens — the Kremlin’s press office said that an international group had ensured that “The Syrian Army has no chemical weapons.”

But that international group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, says that while all the chemical weapons Syria had officially acknowledged possessing were destroyed in 2013, it has since deployed its fact-finding mission in Syria on “numerous occasions” to investigate repeated allegations that Assad’s regime was using chemical weapons.

The OPCW says that it has confirmed with a “high degree of confidence” that Syria has previously used chlorine and mustard gas.

Of the accusations that sarin had been used in the April 4 attack, the OPCW said Thursday that it was still collecting and analyzing data, classifying its inquiry as ongoing.

“The OPCW cannot and will not release information about an on-going investigation,” the organization said in an update on Friday. It added, “This policy exists to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process and its results as well as to ensure the safety and security of OPCW experts and personnel involved.”

The U.S. strike came after widespread claims that Tuesday’s attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Shaykhun had deployed chemical agents. Those claims were bolstered Thursday, when the Turkish government — which is allied with Syrian rebels — said autopsies of victims showed evidence of sarin exposure, as the Two-Way reported.

Khan Shaykhun is roughly 60 miles from the Turkish border. After the attack, dozens of victims were brought to a border crossing where the Turkish government had set up a decontamination center, the AP reported yesterday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said via state-run TASS media that the cruise missile strike was reminiscent of 2003, when the U.S. led an invasion of Iraq “without the consent of the U.N. Security Council and in violation of international law.”

Saying that the U.S. attack in Syria had been prompted by photographs rather than facts, Lavrov blamed “speculations on children’s photos” for the American strike. He also accused nongovernmental organizations of staging incidents to prompt a move against the Syrian government.

Russia also critiqued the U.S. strike’s accuracy: Only 23 out of the 59 cruise missiles that were fired at the air base hit their target, Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Friday, citing Russia’s data recording equipment. That’s according to TASS, which adds that Russia will now reinforce the Syrian army’s air defense system.

Syria’s General Command of the Army has issued a statement calling the attack “a blatant act of aggression targeting one of our air bases.” According to Syria’s state-run news agency, the army also said that with the attack, the U.S. is now a “partner” of ISIS and other terrorist organizations that have targeted Syrian forces.

As the Two-Way has reported, U.S. officials informed Russia — which launched its own military campaign in Syria in fall 2015 — of the impending missile strike. And in planning the attack, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said, the U.S. was careful to avoid risk to “third country nationals at that airport — I think you read Russians from that.”

Today, Russia seems to be taking little solace from that effort, though Lavrov confirmed that no Russian service members had been harmed.

“This move by Washington … has dealt a serious blow to Russian-U.S. relations, which are already in a poor state,” said Putin’s press service.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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