Syrian President Bashar Assad was bracing Wednesday for an American strike, after President Donald Trump tweeted that the US would be launching missiles at Syria in response to a suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma over the weekend.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that pro-government forces were evacuating major airports and military airbases.
The Syrian foreign ministry described the US threats to attack it as “reckless,” saying it would endanger international peace and security.
The statement by the foreign ministry in Damascus came as a war of words is raging between Washington and Moscow.
Activists and first responders say the attack in Douma killed more than 40 people. Both Syria and Russia deny such an attack happened.
Trump’s threats of retaliatory military action prompted a slew of Russian comments that warned that US strikes could trigger direct military clash between the two former Cold War adversaries.
Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday, vowing that “smart” missiles “will be coming.”
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Russian’s foreign ministry said Wednesday that Washington was using the alleged chemical attack as a pretext to target Syria, and that the threats were hindering the government’s efforts to fight “terrorism.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia was seeking “unbiased investigation before delivering verdicts,” the Tass news agency reported.
Addressing the possibility of a US strike, he added, “I want to hope that all countries will avoid steps which essentially haven’t been sparked by anything and which may destabilize the fragile situation in the region.”
The Russian state news agencies RIA Novosti and Tass meanwhile reported that a high-level Russian delegation arrived in Syria, where it was going to meet with Assad.
The agencies said the Russian delegation included the governor of an oil-rich Siberian region and that several lawmakers had arrived earlier on Wednesday.
Tass, in a news story out of the northern Syria city of Homs, quoted lawmaker Dmitry Sablin refuting reports that Assad may have fled Syria. Sablin said Assad is in Damascus and was going to meet the Russian delegation.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, in a Facebook post Wednesday, wondered if the chemical weapons watchdog investigating the reports of the attack on Douma had been warned that US missiles would destroy “all evidence” of the attack.
Tass quoted Zakharova as saying, “Smart missiles must strike terrorists, not the legitimate government that has been fighting international terrorism on its territory for several years.”
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim called on the two superpowers to work toward “healing wounds” in Syria, comparing their threats and exchanges of words to a street fight between “bullies.”
Addressing an economic conference, Yildirim said Wednesday, “They are fighting like street bullies. … The time is not one for competing. It is time to heal the wounds of the region.”