Assad vows to respond if US attacks Syria

Army has finger on the trigger to face any challenge, says PM Wael al-Halqi

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (centre) meets Alaeddin Boroujerdi (left), head of the Iranian parliamentary committee for national security and foreign policy, in Damascus yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Sana

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad (centre) meets Alaeddin Boroujerdi (left), head of the Iranian parliamentary committee for national security and foreign policy, in Damascus yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Sana

 

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad said yesterday that Syria would respond to “any external aggression” in response to US president Barack Obama’s declaration that he will take military action against Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks in the Damascus countryside.

“The American threats . . . will not divert Syria from its principles . . . or its fight against terrorism supported by some regional and western countries, first and foremost the United States of America.”

In response to the US threat to strike, Syrian prime minister Wael al-Halqi said, “The Syrian army is fully ready, its finger on the trigger to face any challenge or scenario that they want to carry out.”

Denied involvement
Syrian foreign minister Faisal Mekdad said he expects the US Congress to approve strikes as they would suit Israel and denied government involvement in chemical attacks. “If we suffer [US strikes], other Arab countries will suffer in the future.”

However, Syrian official daily Al-Thawra called Mr Obama’s decision to ask for congressional endorsement “the start of the historic American retreat” from carrying out missile strikes on Syrian targets.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition called on Congress to endorse Mr Obama’s decision to conduct military strikes against Syria and expressed disappointment over the delay.

“Dictatorships like Iran and North Korea are watching closely to see how the free world responds to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons. If the free world fails to respond to such an outrageous breach of international norms, dictators around the world will be encouraged . . . to follow the example set by Assad,” read the coalition statement issued in Istanbul.

“We were expecting things to be quicker, that a strike would be imminent . . . But we believe Congress will approve a strike,” said spokesman Samir Nashar. Mr Obama is a “weak president who cannot make the right decision when it comes to such an urgent crisis”, he added.

Lack of unanimity
Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo were set to issue a resolution blaming the Assad regime for obstructing democratic change, warning against the disproportionate use of force and urging respect for Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Although the Gulf states support military action, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Algeria and Jordan do not, depriving the League of unanimity.

While there was palpable relief in the Arab and Muslim worlds that Mr Obama did not fire cruise missiles at Syria on the weekend, as many feared, there was widespread opposition to his declaration of intention to do so.

Al-Azhar, the supreme religious authority in the Sunni world, rejected plans for US military strikes on Syria, saying such action would amount to “an aggression against the Arab and Islamic nation”. While condemning the use of chemical weapons by any side in the Syrian conflict, al-Azhar insisted that the Syrian people have the right to “decide their destiny”.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said the US government did not recognise global resentment against its policies even though the British parliament had voted against military action.