Officials representing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad branded the targeted U.S. airstrikes on a pro-government militia that had reportedly violated a “de-confliction zone” a “massacre” and “government terrorism” Friday, while Assad’s patron Russia called the American measure “unacceptable.”
“We discussed the massacre that the U.S. aggressor committed yesterday in our country,” Syrian government negotiator Bashar al-Ja’afari said, referring to a conversation with United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura and referring to the U.S. action as “government terrorism.”
“At every meeting, we would like to remind the attendees that state terrorism is being practiced against our country,” al-Ja’afari alleged, tacitly referencing the isolated American military action, according to the Syrian state-run news agency SANA.
SANA added that al-Ja’afari objected to the enforcing of “de-confliction zones” established by the Astana agreement, a multilateral attempt to establish peace in Syria led by Iran and Russia because “the mechanisms of implementing the agreement have not been set yet.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry also issued a stern condemnation of the American airstrikes on Friday, calling the attack “absolutely unacceptable.”
“Any military actions entailing the aggravation of the situation in Syria certainly influence the course of the political process, especially such actions that were committed against the Syrian armed forces,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennadiy Gatilov said, according to SANA.
On Thursday, news reports confirmed an American airstrike near a military base in Al-Tanf, Syria, in a region which multiple parties to the Syrian Civil War agreed to treat as a safe zone. The region also housed some U.S.-allied Syrian rebel groups.
The reports indicated that the military convoy hit consisted of members of a pro-Assad Syrian militia, not the official Syrian armed forces. The U.S.-led coalition identified the militia as a Shiite, Iran-backed group that “posed a threat to U.S. and partner forces.”
The statement also noted that Russian officials had made an “apparent” attempt to dissuade the forces from approaching the region, near the Jordanian border but that this had failed.
In a separate statement, a “senior U.S. defense official” told Fox News that “the coalition commander assessed the threat and after shows of force didn’t stop the regime forces and those forces refused to move out of the deconfliction zone, the commander on the ground called for the air strike as a matter of force protection.”
“We are not increasing our role in the Syrian civil war, but we will defend our troops,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis said of the decision to strike. “And that is a coalition element made up of more than just U.S. troops, and so we will defend ourselves (if) people take aggressive steps against us.”
On Friday, a Syrian military source said the strikes had hit “one of our military points” and caused an unspecified number of deaths. UPI later reported on Friday, citing both Syrian and Russian sources, that the strikes killed at least eight.
The airstrikes were the second such confrontation between the United States and the Assad regime. In April, President Donald Trump authorized the launching of 59 Tomahawk land attack missiles over Shayrat Airfield, destroying a number of key Syrian military assets, in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on civilians believed to have been conducted by the Assad regime that week.