Chemical watchdog group to fulfill Syria mission

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Latest on U.S.-led missile strikes on Syria (all times local):

7:10 a.m.

A global chemical warfare watchdog group says its fact-finding mission to Syria will go ahead even after the U.S.-led airstrikes.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says in a statement that its team will stick to its plan to investigate last weekend's suspected poison gas attack in Douma.

The group says the mission "will continue its deployment to the Syrian Arab Republic to establish facts around the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma."

Russia and Syria disagree with Western allies that gas was used by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces to suppress opposition close to Damascus in an April 7 attack.


7:05 a.m.

Iranian officials have made calls to Syrian leaders in the wake of the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syrian targets.

Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani (hah-SAHN' roh-HAH'-nee), tells Syria's Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd) that America's goal is to justify its continued presence in the region.

That description of their conversation comes from Syrian and Iranian state news agencies.

Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has spoken with his Syrian counterpart, too. Zarif says the U.S. is using allegations of chemical weapons to justify attacking Syria before inspectors from a chemical weapons watchdog agency begin their work.


5:50 a.m.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (hah-meh-neh-EE') has called the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria a "military crime."

He spoke at a meeting with Iranian officials and ambassadors from some Islamic countries.

The report quotes Khamenei as calling the leaders of the United States, Britain and France - the countries that launched the attack - "criminals."

The allies' operation was intended to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again.


5:45 a.m.

NATO representatives are planning a special session to hear from U.S., British and French officials about their military strike against Syria.

The alliance briefing is expected later Saturday, and NATO's secretary-general has expressed strong support for the coordinated military action aimed at the Syrian governor's chemical weapons program.

Jens Stoltenberg says the missile strikes will erode the Syrian government's "ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons."


5:40 a.m.

The leader of Britain's largest opposition party is suggesting Prime Minister Theresa May could face a backlash in Parliament for her decision to join the United States and France in launching airstrikes against Syria.

The Labour Party's Jeremy Corbyn says the allies' bombing is "legally questionable" and risks further escalating "an already devastating conflict."

Corbyn says "May should have sought parliamentary approval, not trailed after Donald Trump."

The prime minister will appear before the House of Commons on Monday to explain her decision on joining the airstrikes

Corbyn says the strikes will make assigning blame for the use of chemical weapons in Syria "less, not more likely." He says Britain should be leading the response and "not taking instructions from Washington and putting British military personnel in harm's way."


5:30 a.m.

Syrian state TV has broadcast images of the destruction at a scientific research center near the capital of Damascus that was targeted in airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain.

Pentagon officials say the attacks targeted the heart of Syrian President Bashar Assad's (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahds) programs to develop and produce chemical weapons.

The Syrian military says more than one 100 missiles were fired against a military base in Syria's central Homs province and the research center in Barzeh, near Damascus.

The images shown on Al-Ikhbariya TV are the first of one of the targets. Seen in the footage are piles of rubble outside a destroyed building and a burned vehicle.

The Syrian military says the attack on the center destroyed an educational center and labs.


5:20 a.m.

France's foreign minister is threatening further missile strikes against Syria if the Syrian government uses chemical weapons again.

France joined the United States and Britain in a joint operation that has destroyed what Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian says is a "good part" of the Syrian government's chemical weapons arsenal.

He says France has "no doubt" that the Syrian government was behind a suspected chemical attacks last weekend. Syria denies responsibility.

Le Drian tells BFM television that the goal for the allied mission "was attained" but that if France's "red line is crossed again" there could be another attack.


4:55 a.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says the need to act quickly and protect what she calls "operational security" led her to decide to join the allied strikes in Syria without a prior vote in Parliament.

She says she'll make a statement in Parliament on Monday explaining her actions. A spirited debate is expected.

The United States, France and Britain have launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR' AH'-sahd) for an apparent chemical attack against civilians last week and to deter him from doing it again.

May has come under criticism from some British lawmakers for not bringing back Parliament into session before taking action against Syria,


4:45 a.m.

The European Union Commission's president says those who rely on chemical warfare must be held to account by the world.

Jean-Claude Juncker says the suspected use of poison gas last week in the Syrian city of Douma was - as he puts it - a "heinous chemical weapons attack carried out by the Syrian regime."

Juncker says the world "has the responsibility to identify and hold accountable those responsible" for that kind of attack.


4:40 a.m.

Germany's chancellor says the allied strikes in Syria were - in her words - a "necessary and appropriate" response to what the U.S. and its allies say was a recent chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.

Angela Merkel (AHN'-geh-lah MEHR'-kuhl) says Berlin says the U.S., Britain and France "took responsibility in this way as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council."

Merkel says the strikes were needed "to maintain the effectiveness of the international rejection of chemical weapons use and to warn the Syrian regime against further violations."

Merkel had said earlier this week that Germany wouldn't join allied military action against Syrian government forces.


4:35 a.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is citing reports she says indicate the Syrian government used a barrel bomb to deliver the chemicals used in an attack on Douma.

Barrel bombs are large containers that are packed with fuel, explosives and scraps of metal.

May says the accounts about the use of a barrel bomb suggest that a Syrian government helicopter was seen flying above Douma just before last weekend's attack.

She says "no other group" could have carried out that attack.


4:30 a.m.

France's government says it has no samples of the chemical weapons it believes were used in Syria, but launched a military response based on open-source information and intelligence gathering.

France has released its assessment of what happened in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7. It was the basis for France's involvement in a joint military operation with the U.S. and Britain to target Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

The assessment cites "the absence to date of chemical samples analyzed by our own laboratories." It says the government evaluated publicly available information from nongovernmental organizations and other sources as well as unspecified French intelligence.

It concludes that there is "no plausible scenario other than that of an attack by Syrian armed forces." Syria denies responsibility and says it gave up its chemical arsenal.

The assessment notes eight chlorine attacks ahead of the "major attack" on Douma and 44 allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria over the past year.


4:20 a.m.

The Russian military says Syria's Soviet-made air defense systems have downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the United States and its allies.

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military's General Staff says Saturday's strike hasn't caused any casualties and Syrian military facilities targeted by the U.S., Britain and France have suffered only minor damage.

He says the Russian air defense assets in Syria monitored the strike but didn't engage any of the missiles.

Rudskoi says the Syrian military used Soviet-made air defense missile systems with high efficiency, shooting down all of the missiles aimed at four key Syrian air bases.

He notes that Russia in the past refrained from providing Syria with its state-of-the-art S-300 air defense missile systems on Western prodding but could reconsider it now.


4 a.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced a strike on Syria launched by the United States and its allies as an "act of aggression" that will exacerbate humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

In a statement issued by the Kremlin, the Russian leader says Moscow is calling an emergency meeting of the United Nations' Security Council over the strike launched by the U.S., Britain and France.

Putin added that the strike had a "destructive influence on the entire system of international relations."

He reaffirmed Russia's view that a purported chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma that prompted the strike was a fake. Putin added that Russian military experts who inspected Douma found no trace of the attack. He criticized the U.S. and its allies for launching the strike without waiting for inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog to visit the area.


3:15 a.m.

President Donald Trump says the United States, France and Britain have launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again.

Syrians crowded onto the streets in noisy demonstrations of defiance afterward and their ally Russia denounced the attack.

Pentagon officials say the attacks targeted the heart of Assad's programs to develop and produce chemical weapons.

Syrian television reports that Syria's air defenses responded to the attack.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis says there are no reports of U.S. losses in what he describes as a heavy but carefully limited assault.