As It Happens

'A violation of international law': Syrian MP condemns U.S. missile strike

Depending on who you ask, U.S. President Donald Trump's sudden assault on a Syrian air base is either a gross violation of international law or a long overdue step to protect civilians from a brutal government regime.
President Donald Trump delivers a statement about U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian airfield. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

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Depending on who you ask, U.S. President Donald Trump's assault on a Syrian air base is either a gross violation of international law or a long overdue step to protect civilians from a brutal regime. 

Trump authorized the launch of 59 cruise missiles early Friday morning targeting the Shayrat air base in western Syria, from which U.S. officials say Syrian forces launched a chemical weapons strike on Tuesday.

It marked an about-face for the previously non-interventionist president, and the first time the U.S. has directly attacked the Syrian regime during its long and bloody civil war.

In an effort to understand the impact of this strike, As It Happens host Carol Off on Friday spoke with an MP in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, a representative of the Syrian opposition, and a former U.S. deputy secretary of state under Obama.

'A violation of international law'

Aleppo MP Fares Shehabi ​echoed the official government response, condemning the U.S. strike and denying that Syria used chemical weapons — either this week or ever before. 

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, which U.S. said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria. (Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via Reuters)

"It's a violation of international law," Shehabi ​said.  "We do not have any chemical weapons. The UN confirmed it. The Obama administration confirmed it. They dismantled all of our chemical arsenal. We do not have any chemical arsenal."

He was referring to a 2013 deal, brokered by the U.S. and Russia, that saw Syria destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons after more than 1,000 people were killed in a sarin gas attack in opposition-held areas in Damascus.

Fares Shehabi is a Syrian Member of Parliament representing Aleppo. 6:10

Any sarin gas in the country now belongs to al-Qaeda, who Syria was targeting in Tuesday's strike, Shehabi insisted.

"If they use human shields or they stole chemical depots, this is their responsibility," he said. 

Trump acts on Assad challenge: Opposition

Bassma Kodmani, spokesperson for the Syria Opposition High Negotiations Committee, dismissed Shehabi's comments as typical regime rhetoric, and said it's Assad who violated international law.

"The denial of any evidence is a constant and a usual method of the Syrian regime," Kodmani told As It Happens. "It has always done so. 

Syrian National Council member Bassma Kodmadi says the Assad regime regularly targets civiliand and later denies it. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

Kodmani believes Syria deployed sarin to test the new Trump administration's willingness to use force. 

"And that challenge for the Trump administration has brought a response for the first time from the United States," she said. 

And for that, she said, she is glad. 

Bassma Kodmani is the spokesperson for the Syria Opposition High Negotiations Committee. 6:24

"Today it is chemical weapons, but we have seen thousands and thousands of barrel bombs [that] that kill every time people by the dozens, indiscriminate weapons, and the protection of civilians has never been brought to the population of Syria," she said.

"How can we move to a ceasefire? How can we go to a political process? How can we have an orderly transition in Syria?"

What happens next?

That's exactly what Trump should be thinking about, Antony J. Blinken said. 

The former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times commending Trump for his decision to strike in Syria, but he says it's what the president does next that matters.
Antony J. Blinken, former deputy secretary of state under president Obama, thinks that new administration did the right thing by striking Syria, but that smart diplomacy must come next. 6:31

"There is an opportunity to use this to leverage Russia, to leverage the Assad regime, to move them in a better direction, to insist with Russia that it needs to rein in Assad, to stop him from doing this going forward, to go back to the bargaining table and to try to move toward some settlement of the civil war which has been going on for far too long and taking so many lives," Blinken told As It Happens.

Russia, meanwhile, is standing by Syrian government, calling it the main force against terrorism and saying it deserves the presumption of innocence in the chemical weapons attack.

President says strike on Syria in the 'vital national security interest' of the U.S. 2:50

Blinken also said Trump — who justified the missile strike as retaliation for the deaths of Syrian children — should put his money where his mouth is and open the U.S. to refugees. 

"I would hope that this very human response that we have apparently seen is extended to all the victims of this conflict, not only those who have been murdered by the most horrific weapons that anyone can imagine, but all of those fleeing violence who were affected by the conflict," he said.

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