Immediate action is needed to protect the Syrian people but it should be “rooted in the principles of the United Nations and international law,” U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said on Friday.
“There can be no genuine protection if the parties to the conflict, government and opposition alike, are permitted to act with impunity and if the Syrian government continues to commit human rights violations against its own citizens,” he told the U.N. Security Council.
Russia warned that US cruise missile strikes on a Syrian government air base could have “extremely serious” consequences”.
The strikes were in retaliation for what Washington says was a chemical attack carried out by Syrian government forces that killed at least 70 people, including dozens of children, in rebel-held territory earlier this week.
US President Donald Trump’s decision to strike the Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon says was involved in the attack, was the kind of direct military intervention in Syria that his predecessor Barack Obama avoided.
The move deepened a rift at the UN Security Council between the West and Russia.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the strike was “fully justified.”
“The moral stain of the Assad regime could no longer go unanswered. His crimes against humanity could no longer be met with empty words. It was time to say enough. But not only say it, it was time to act. Bashar al-Assad must never use chemical weapons again, ever,” Haley said.
“We are prepared to do more but we hope that will not be necessary. It is time for all civilized nations to stop the horrors that are taking place in Syria and demand a political solution,” she added.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vladimir Safronkov called the appeals for the political process to move forward “hypocritical” after the US move. He said it undermined what he called “clear progress” in Syrian peace talks, which Washington refutes.
“Russia is supposed to have removed all the chemical weapons from Syria, but obviously that has not happened,” Haley said.
Manzour Manzour, Syrian deputy ambassador to the UN, denied Syria owned chemical weapons, and said “it would never use such weapons in any of its operations against armed terrorist groups.”
“Let me stress that it is well known that those weapons have been used and stockpiled in many parts of Syria by terrorist armed organizations,” he said.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Friday told reporters that he plans to announce additional economic sanctions aimed at Syria in the near future, as part of the U.S. response to Tuesday’s poison gas attack.
“We expect that those (sanctions) will continue to have an important effect on preventing people from doing business with them,” Mnuchin said. “These sanctions are very important and we will use them the maximum effect.”