DAMASCUS: Syria´s armed forces were warned about the threat of American military action hours before the US strike on the Shayrat airbase on Friday, a military source said.
“We learned of the American threat and the expected military bombardment on Syrian territory,” the source told AFP.
“We took precautions in more than one military point, including in the Shayrat airbase. We moved a number of airplanes towards other areas,” the official said, adding they were forewarned “hours” before the strike.
He did not specify where the planes had been moved to or who had warned the Syrian government.
American forces fired a barrage of 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat airbase in central Syria overnight—the first time the US has carried out direct military action against President Bashar al-Assad´s troops.
US officials said Russia´s military in Syria had been informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis.
The Kremlin confirmed it had been warned by the United States, but refused to say whether any Russian soldiers had to be evacuated from the base.
According to the Syrian military source, the strike put nine planes out of service, including several that were “totally destroyed”.
It came in response to a suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town on Tuesday widely blamed on the Damascus regime, which has repeatedly denied it has used toxic substances.
Instead, the Syrian government says, it struck a warehouse used by extremist groups to store toxic substances.
UN chief urges restraint, council to meet on US strikes in Syria
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday urged restraint and a renewed push for peace in Syria as the Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the US missile strikes on a Syrian air base.
“Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people,” Guterres said in a statement.
“These events underscore my belief that there is no other way to solve the conflict than through a political solution.”
The Security Council was set to meet at 11:30 am (1530 GMT), at the request of Bolivia, to hear a briefing from UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley, who holds the council presidency this month, said the discussion would be held in an open session despite Bolivia´s request for a closed-door meeting.
“Any country that chooses to defend the atrocities of the Syrian regime will have to do so in full public view, for all the world to hear,” Haley said in a statement.
Russia had also demanded an emergency meeting after angrily denouncing the military action as an “aggression against a sovereign state.”
The Security Council failed during a meeting Thursday to agree on terms for an investigation of the suspected sarin gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun.
Russia´s Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov on Thursday warned of “negative consequences” from the US military action, which he described as a “doubtful, tragic enterprise.”
“Look at Iraq, look at Libya,” he said, referring to Western interventions that unleashed years of chaos in those countries.
Eighty-six people including at least 27 children died in the suspected attack in Khan Sheikhun. Results from post-mortems performed on victims point to exposure to the deadly sarin nerve agent, according to Turkish health officials.
Guterres called on the council to unite and agree on a way forward on Syria.
“For too long, international law has been ignored in the Syrian conflict, and it is our shared duty to uphold international standards of humanity,” he said.
“This is a prerequisite to ending the unrelenting suffering of the people of Syria.”