UN says actions in Syria must be in line with international law

Immediate action is needed to protect the Syrian people but it should be "rooted in the principles of the United Nations and international law," UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman says.

Canada, Britain, France and Israel express varying degrees of support; Iran and Russia opposed

UN Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said there 'can be no genuine protection if the parties to the conflict ... are permitted to act with impunity.' (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

Immediate action is needed to protect the Syrian people, but it should be "rooted in the principles of the United Nations and international law," UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman says.

"There can be no genuine protection if the parties to the conflict, government and opposition alike, are permitted to act with impunity and if the Syrian government continues to commit human rights violations against its own citizens," he told the UN Security Council Friday.

U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base were one step away from clashing with the Russian military, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged on Friday, underscoring the risks in U.S. President Donald Trump's first major foray into the Syrian civil war.

The UN held an emergency meeting on the situation in Syria on Friday. Russia's representative to the council condemned the airstrikes, while the U.S. and its allies defended them.

Feltmen had urged the divided members of the UN Security Council to send a strong message after the chemical weapons attack in Syria "that any use of chemical weapons shall not be tolerated and will have consequences."

The political chief said the council should unite on a resolution demanding an investigation of the attack that prompted U.S. airstrikes against the Assad government.

He says the international community has a responsibility to hold all perpetrators accountable "and that chemical weapons are never again used as an instrument of warfare."

U.S. prepared for further action

At Friday's meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the Trump administration was ready to take further steps if needed.

"We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary," she told the Security Council. "The United 
States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons."

Russia's Medvedev made his comments on social media, part of the worldwide reaction to the U.S. strikes aimed at punishing the Syrian government for what the U.S. says was a chemical weapons attack on Syrian citizens earlier in the week. 

Lavrov: 'Of course it's an act of aggression'

5 years ago
Duration 0:23
Russian foreign minister comments on U.S. missile attack on Syria

U.S. officials informed Russian forces ahead of the strikes and avoided hitting Russian personnel.

Satellite imagery suggests the Shayrat airbase that was struck is home to Russian special forces and military helicopters, part of the Kremlin's effort to help the Syrian government fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and other militant groups.

Battered U.S.-Russia relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin also earlier condemned the strikes as illegal, warning the move would further damage already battered U.S.-Russia relations that Moscow had hoped Trump would revive.

Russia's main airbase and a naval facility were not hit. Moscow had been hoping to co-operate with Trump to jointly fight ISIS in Syria, a move it was banking on to boost U.S.-Russia ties which are at a post-Cold War low. After the U.S. strikes, that task now looks harder.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says the U.S. strikes were illegal and 'one step away' from causing military clashes with Russia. (Dmitry Astakhov/RIA Novosti/Associated Press)

"President Putin views the U.S. strikes on Syria as aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law and on a made-up pretext," said a Kremlin statement. "This step by Washington will inflict major damage on U.S.-Russia ties."

Putin, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was holding a meeting of Russia's Security Council to discuss the strike on Friday afternoon, and the Russian Foreign Ministry called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

A Foreign Ministry statement said Moscow was suspending a Syrian air safety agreement with the United States originally drawn up to ensure that the two countries' planes did not collide. Russia would keep military channels of communication open with Washington, but would not exchange any information through them, he added.

Merkel: 'The sole responsibility … lies with President Assad'

5 years ago
Duration 0:25
German chancellor comments on U.S. missile attack against Syria

When asked whether Russia had deactivated its own anti-missile defence systems in Syria before the missile strike, Peskov declined to comment.

Here is a look at reaction around the world to the U.S. missile attack:

Canada 'fully supports the U.S.'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada supports the 'limited and focused action' by the U.S. in Syria. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Friday morning that "Canada fully supports the United States' limited and focused action to degrade the Assad regime's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against innocent civilians, including many children.

"President Assad's use of chemical weapons and the crimes the Syrian regime has committed against its own people cannot be ignored. These gruesome attacks cannot be permitted to continue operating with impunity. This week's attack in southern Idlib and the suffering of Syrians is a war crime and is unacceptable. Canada condemns all uses of chemical weapons. Canada will continue to support diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria."

Many other countries have voiced their support for the U.S. action in Syria including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Poland, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Germany, France, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande said in a joint statement that "President Assad alone carries responsibility for these developments" with his "repeated use of chemical weapons and his crimes against his own people."

The two leaders said their countries would continue to work with UN partners in "efforts to hold President Assad responsible for his criminal acts." They called upon the international community to "join forces for a political transition in Syria" in accordance with the UN resolution.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the foreign leaders supporting Donald Trump's decision to strike a Syrian airbase, calling it a 'strong and clear message.' (Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the attack, saying he "fully supports" Trump's decision.

Netanyahu said in a statement: "In both word and action" Trump "sent a strong and clear message" that "the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated."

Israel's Channel 2 TV said Israel along with other allies was notified about the U.S. strike.

The only country other than Syria and Russia to condemn the attacks by the U.S. has been Iran.

"Iran ... condemns use of chemical weapons ... but at the same time believes it is dangerous, destructive and violation of international laws to use it as an excuse to take unilateral actions," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi was quoted in a report by the Students News Agency ISNA.

He said Iran condemned the missile launch "regardless of the perpetrators and the victims" of Tuesday's chemical weapons attack in Syria. He also warned it would "strengthen terrorists" and further add to "the complexity of the situation in Syria and the region."

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters