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U.S. airstrikes give us hope, Syrians suffering under Assad regime say

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U.S. airstrikes give us hope, Syrians suffering under Assad regime say

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Hassan Ammar
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Syrians who lived through some of Bashar al-Assad's most brutal assaults rejoiced over U.S.-led airstrikes in the wake of a chemical weapons attack blamed on his regime.

"These are the strikes we have long wanted," said Asmaa al-Ajrad, 27.

Al-Ajrad is originally from Douma, the Damascus suburb that was the scene of the chemical attack earlier this month which activists and aid groups say killed dozens. She fled to Idlib only days before the deadly incident.

Douma, a one-time rebel stronghold in eastern Ghouta, has been subjected to intense bombing by Syria's Russian-backed regime for months. Assad's military declared Douma "fully liberated" on Saturday.

The U.S., British and French airstrikes targeted three facilities involved in the research or storage of chemical weapons in western Syria.

"For Assad to know that from now on there will be an international response lead by the Americans if he uses chemical weapons is a relief for Syrians," construction worker Mustafa Rizk told NBC News, adding that he felt Syrians had been left "waiting for too long" for an international military response.

The 27-year-old was evacuated to the Idlib countryside in December 2016 from his home in eastern Aleppo, another former opposition stronghold. The rebels were ousted from the city after a brutal siege and bombing campaign.

However, Rizk questioned why it took a chemical attack to get the international community to act.

"What about all the others who died? Isn't that a war crime as well? Torturing prisoners? Killing children and women? Destroying most of the country? Attacking the Syrian people with all kinds of weapons isn't a war crime?" he said.

Millions have been displaced in the seven years since pro-democracy protests in Syria exploded into a full-fledged civil war.

Pentagon officials called the weekend's strikes a "very serious blow" at "the heart of the Syrian chemical weapons program."

Trump also authorized strikes in Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons last year. In April 2017, the U.S. fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in response to what it believes was a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 100 people.

Hamza Abu Bassam fled to Idlib two weeks ago from Eastern Ghouta with his baby son.

Hamza Abu Bassam, who fled to Idlib two weeks ago from eastern Ghouta along with his baby son, said he's optimistic that the latest strikes will send a message to Assad.

"The Syrian regime needs to know that we have allies as well, and that if they use chemical weapons against civilians, it will be punished," he said.

However, some questioned the lack of action by President Barack Obama following another chemical weapons attack in 2013, who had previously stated that the use of them represented a "red line."

"We were all waiting for an international coalition against Bashar al-Assad," said Layla Qabash, 34, who was evacuated from eastern Ghouta to Idlib two weeks ago with her two young children. Her husband was killed in January 2017. "I thought that the world will not be silent. I was sure that they will fight for the free people in Syria. I thought that the U.S. will help us that time."

Layla Qabash with her two young children.

She added that Obama's decision "let us all down and gave hope and a green light to the Syrian regime."

Qabash praised Trump for launching the airstrikes, saying they left her "very happy."

And while she wasn't convinced they would have much impact on the Assad regime, Qabash said they "at least gave us hope that there is a free world who will fight with us for our freedom and that we're not on our own."