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Friday September 21st, 2018 6:05AM

The Latest: Germany hopes for peace push after Syria strikes

By The Associated Press
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BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syria conflict (all times local):

10:15 p.m.

Germany's foreign minister hopes the U.S.-led air strikes in Syria will result in a fresh effort to find a peaceful solution to the seven-year conflict.

Heiko Maas told public broadcaster ARD that the military attack by western nations against Bashar Assad's forces "should make clear to all parties that we don't just have the opportunity but the necessity to take up the political process again."

Maas says he hopes a "window for dialogue" has opened with Moscow — Syria's ally — now that the Russian elections are over.

Germany didn't join the United States, Britain and France in the strikes, though Chancellor Angela Merkel called the attack "necessary and appropriate."

___

9:45 p.m.

Pro-Russian Czech President Milos Zeman has condemned the allied airstrikes in Syria.

In a radio interview Sunday, Zeman said a military action against any state can only be carried out after approval from the U.N. Security Council. He said attacks against Islamic militants should be the only exception.

Zeman also said the strikes were a mistake because they came at a time when refugees were returning to the war-ravaged country.

The president also criticized acting Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis' positive response to the strikes. Babis said Saturday that they were "inevitable" because the regime of President Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons to attack civilians. After meeting Zeman on Sunday, Babis backtracked, saying the strikes don't solve anything.

In the Czech Republic, the government is in charge of the foreign policy, not the president.

6:50 p.m.

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader says the Western strikes against Syria following alleged use of chemical weapons will likely complicate prospects of a political solution and have failed to achieve any of their results.

Speaking by video link at a rally of his supporters on Sunday, Hassan Nasrallah says the U.S.-ordered strikes have strained international relations and could totally "torpedo" the U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. He says the strikes were "limited" and were recognition of the strength of the "resistance axis." The term is in reference to the alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah.

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group, founded originally to fight Israel's occupation of Lebanese territories, has sent hundreds of fighters to back the troops of President Bashar Assad in the war, now in its eighth year.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his British and French allies say the airstrikes were necessary to deter Syria's use of chemical weapons. Syria and Russia deny any chemical weapons were used and insist the Western powers had no evidence.

___

6:20 p.m.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says the U.S. will be imposing more economic sanctions on Russia for its support of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his apparent use of chemical weapons.

Haley says Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will be making the announcement by Monday and it will affect companies that are "dealing with equipment related to Assad and any chemical weapons use."

She tells CBS' "Face the Nation" that Russia needs to feel the consequences for protecting the Assad regime. Haley notes that Russia has vetoed six resolutions in the United Nations Security Council regarding chemical weapons.

Haley says the fact that Assad was making the use of chemical weapons "more normal and that Russia was covering this up, all that has got to stop."

Syrian opposition activists and first responders say a chemical attack on the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital, killed more than 40 people on April 7.

___

6:15 p.m.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani have held a telephone conversation to discuss Syrian conditions in the wake of a joint missile airstrike by the U.S., U.K. and France on the country.

The leaders "agreed that this illegal action is adversely impacting prospects for political settlement in Syria," a statement by the Kremlin said Sunday.

Putin stressed that if such actions in violation of the UN Charter continue, "it will inevitably entail chaos in international relations," according to the statement.

The official IRNA news agency quoted Rouhani as saying "The U.S. and some western countries do not want Syria to reach permanent stability."

Rouhani said both Iran and Russia should not allow "fire of a new tension" to flare up in the region, adding that Saturday's airstrikes on Syria were an "invasion" and aimed at "emboldening defeated terrorists," according to the report.

Both Iran and Russia are key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad whose forces have been accused of carrying out a chemical weapons attack near Damascus a week ago that prompted the missile attack by the Western powers.

___

5:50 p.m.

Serbia, Russia's key ally in Europe, says it won't take sides in the Syrian crisis following the U.S.-led attacks on Syrian chemical weapons sites.

President Aleksandar Vucic said in a statement Sunday that Serbia generally condemns the use of chemical weapons, but "won't get involved in big powers' relations."

The statement says Vucic met with U.S. ambassador in Serbia Kyle Scott over the situation in Syria.

While formally seeking European Union membership, Serbia has kept strong political and military ties with traditional ally Russia. Anti-Western sentiments remain high, stemming from the 1999 U.S.-led NATO bombing of Serbia that stopped the war in Kosovo.

Vucic says that "Serbia jealously guards and protects its military neutrality." He adds "our country wants to talk to everyone and have a partner and friendly relationship (with everyone.)" ___

5:25 p.m.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is making clear the United States won't be pulling troops out of Syria right away.

Haley spoke after President Donald Trump in a tweet Sunday defended his use of the term "Mission accomplished" to describe U.S.-led strikes in Syria. She says U.S. involvement in Syria "is not done."

Haley says the three U.S. goals for accomplishing its mission are making sure chemical weapons are not used in a way that could harm U.S. national interests; that the Islamic state is defeated; and that there is a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.

She tells "Fox News Sunday": "We're not going to leave until we know we've accomplished those things."

Haley reiterates that if Syrian President Bashar Assad uses poison gas again, "the United States is locked and loaded."

___

3:45 p.m.

President Donald Trump is defending his use of the phrase "mission accomplished" to refer to the U.S.-led strikes in Syria.

Trump tweets on Sunday that the mission was "so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished.'"

He adds: "I knew they would seize on this but felt it is such a great Military term, it should be brought back. Use often!"

Trump's use of the phrase Saturday had evoked comparisons with President George W. Bush, who in 2003 stood under a banner that read "Mission Accomplished" as he declared that major combat operations had ended in Iraq six weeks after the invasion. But the war dragged on for years.

___

3:15 p.m.

Iran has condemned the Western strikes on Syria, saying no country has a right to take punitive measures against another "beyond international procedures."

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying that Iran had warned about the possibility that "terrorist groups" were behind the alleged chemical attack that triggered the strikes. It said he communicated his concerns in a phone call Sunday with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces have been accused of carrying out a chemical weapons attack near Damascus a week ago that opposition activists and rescuers say killed more than 40 people. The attack prompted the U.S., Britain and France to carry out a missile attack on Syrian military targets early Saturday.

___

3:10 p.m.

Syria's President Bashar Assad says the Western airstrikes against his country were accompanied by a campaign of "lies" and misinformation in the U.N. Security Council.

Assad spoke Sunday to a group of visiting Russian politicians. His comments were carried by state media.

Assad and Russia deny using chemical weapons, the trigger for the strikes early Saturday. An alleged gas attack last weekend in the town of Douma killed more than 40 people, according to opposition activists and rescuers.

Assad told his visitors that the U.S., Britain and France, which carried out the strikes, had waged a campaign of "lies and misinformation" against Russia and Syria.

The U.N. Security Council has been paralyzed in dealing with the seven-year Syrian conflict and the use of chemical weapons. Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member, is a close ally of Assad.

___

2:45 p.m.

About 350 protesters from communist organizations in Cyprus have gathered in front of the entrance gate of a British air base to denounce U.S.-led airstrikes against suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria.

Protest leader Akis Poullos says they are demanding the closure of RAF Akrotiri, from where four British Tornado warplanes took off to take part in the missile strike.

Poullos said Sunday's demonstration was also a message to the Cyprus government not to lend any assistance to "imperialist attacks" on Syria and to demand an end to the war in the country.

Protesters used red paint to write "NATO killers go home" on a nearby wall outside the base's gate.

Former colonial ruler Britain retained RAF Akrotiri and another military base on Cyprus after the east Mediterranean island gained independence in 1960.

The Cyprus government said it wasn't given any forewarning about Saturday's airstrikes. It also said British Prime Minister Theresa May assured Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades that there's no danger to Cyprus and that Cypriots can feel secure.

___

2:30 p.m.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says he hopes there is no need for additional strikes against Syria, but that Britain and its allies will consider further action if Syrian President Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons in the future.

Johnson told the BBC on Sunday the airstrikes were proportionate and showed "the world has said enough is enough."

He says "so far, thank heavens, the Assad regime has not been so foolish to launch another chemical weapons attack," adding that Britain and its allies "would study what the options were" in the event of another attack.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn says the airstrikes were "legally debatable" and that Britain must abide by international law if it wants the moral high ground. He is demanding legislation to give Parliament more scrutiny over military action.

The U.S., France and Britain launched missiles at Syrian military targets early Saturday in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus a week ago.

___

1:45 p.m.

Syrian state TV says another 5,000 security forces are deploying in a town near the capital that was brought under full government control a week after an alleged chemical attack.

Douma was the last rebel holdout in the eastern Ghouta suburbs, the target of a massive government offensive in February and March. The town was also the scene of a suspected poison gas attack on April 7 that prompted the U.S., Britain and France to launch missiles on Syrian military targets early Saturday.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied allegations of a chemical attack. An international fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is in Syria and expected to visit Douma.

State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV says a second batch of 5,000 security forces deployed in Douma on Sunday.

Syrian newspapers meanwhile boasted that the country's air defense systems had shot down missiles.

The front-page headline of the government daily Tishrin reads: "Our heroic army shoots down the missiles of aggression."

The Pentagon says none of the missiles were shot down and that Syria's air defenses were ineffective.

___

1:35 p.m.

Pope Francis says he is "deeply disturbed" by the international community's failure to come up with a common response to the crises in Syria and other parts of the world.

The pontiff said after his traditional Sunday blessing that "despite the tools available to the international community, it is difficult to agree on a common action toward peace in Syria or other regions of the world."

Francis called on "all people of goodwill" to join him in praying for peace, and appealed to political leaders to help "justice prevail."

The pope spoke after airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain aimed at taking out Syria's chemical weapons capacity, following a suspected poison gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed dozens, including children.

___

1:15 p.m.

A group of Russian politicians has met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose mood they describe as good a day after Western airstrikes.

In Assad's view, the airstrikes that were launched in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian forces on the town of Douma will unify the country. That's according to Dmitry Sablin, a member of the lower house of the Russian parliament, who was quoted by Russian news agencies.

Natalya Komarova, governor of Russia's Khanty-Mansiysk region, also attended Sunday's meeting. She says: "President Assad has an absolutely positive attitude, a good mood."

Sablin was quoted as saying that Assad estimates rebuilding the country after years of war would cost $400 billion.

___

11 a.m.

France is urging Russia to join a push for a political solution in Syria after joint U.S., French and British attacks on Syrian chemical weapons sites.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that "we should join our efforts to promote a political process in Syria that would allow a way out of the crisis."

France has continued to talk regularly with Russia even as East-West tensions have grown. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, hours before the Western missile strikes.

Western countries blamed Syria's government for a chemical attack on a rebel-held area earlier this month that killed more than 40 people. The Syrian government and its ally Russia denied the allegations.

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