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What next, after the US missile attack in Syria?

WITH the United States missile attack on a Syrian airbase last Friday, the war in Syria entered a new phase that may soon end the seven-year stalemate – or raise the war to a new level of violence.

President Donald Trump, acting decisively within hours of a chemical weapons attack that killed 86 Syrian civilians, including 27 children, in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun, Syria, ordered two US destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea to rain at least 59 missiles on the Al Shayrat airfield in Syria, destroying Syrian jet fighters on the ground, their hardened shelters, radars, ammunition bunkers, fuel stores, and air defense systems.

Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike, so there were no Russian planes at the base. Russia and Iran have been helping the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad in its fight against rebels supported by various other countries, including the US. Great care was taken to minimize civilian losses in the airfield attack, and also to avoid hitting what is believed to be a sarin gas storage facility, as this would certainly kill many innocent people as in Khan Sheikhun.

Four years ago, in August, 2013, the Syrian regime had mounted a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, and then President Barack Obama prepared to strike at the al-Assad regime, but Obama decided instead to put the matter to a vote in Congress. In the resulting negotiations, Syria agreed to dismantle its chemical weapons arsenal and ship it to Russia.

This time, President Trump said, the US would not hold back. The US missile attack on the Syrian airbase was swiftly decided and undertaken but with great care to ensure no major losses to the Russians. The world, however, waits and watches to see how Russia reacts to the US missile strike on their Syrian ally. We must hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not respond in kind to the US attack.

The rest of the world, notably Britain and France, is likely to support the US action. President Trump stressed that he ordered the missile attack because Syrian government forces “crossed the red line” when they used deadly chemical weapons on civilians.

It has been seven long years since the Syrian civil war began and hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died in the fighting, while millions have fled their homeland to seek new lives elsewhere. This has resulted in the great refugee migration flood that remains a problem to many countries in Europe to this day. It has reached as far as the US where President Trump issued an executive order to ban the entry of visitors from six mostly-Muslim nations, including Syria.

Trump’s swift action was unexpected, considering the previous record of the Obama administration along with the rest of the world, we can only await with great uncertainty what happens next in this conflict, particularly because of Russia’s involvement. We hope there is no further escalation of the violence. We go one step further and hope that a final effort will now be made and will succeed to end the war in Syria.