Hundreds rally in Syrian capital in support of Assad’s army

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Hundreds of Syrians are rallying in Syria’s capital in support of their armed forces, which they say succeeded in confronting the joint air strikes by the West over the weekend.

State TV broadcast the rally live from Damascus’s central Omayyad Square.

Protesters waved Syrian flags at the demonstration, dubbed a “salute to the achievements of the Arab Syrian Army”, setting off fireworks and celebratory gunfire.

Shouts of “Allah, Syria, and only Bashar,” a reference to Syrian president Bashar Assad, rang out.

The joint air strikes by the US, UK and France bombed sites which the three countries said were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons programme.

The air strikes were triggered by an alleged chemical attack in the town of Douma, just outside of Damascus.

Syrian activists said more than 40 people were killed, but Syria and Russia deny the attack. Russia has accused Britain of staging the attack.

Saturday’s air strikes came shortly after a fact-finding mission from the Organisation of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Syria to investigate the attack.

The mission is still expected to make it to Douma, where government security agencies and Russian military police have deployed after the town fell under government control, raising complaints from the Syrian opposition that evidence of chemical weapon use might no longer be found.

The OPCW is holding an emergency meeting on Monday in the Hague to discuss the suspected chemical attack in Douma.

The strikes have ratcheted up international tension, as the US and Russia exchanged threats of retaliation. US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has indicated new economic sanctions will be announced on Monday against Russia for enabling Mr Assad’s government to continue using chemical weapons.

Russian president Vladimir Putin said the military strikes violated the UN Charter and that if they continue, “it will inevitably entail chaos in international relations,” according to a Kremlin statement.

The Syrian government regained full control of Douma on Saturday, following a surrender deal with the rebels who had controlled the town just east of Damascus.

It also followed the purported use of chemical weapons there on April 7.

Douma was the last rebel hold-out in the eastern Ghouta enclave, which was the target of a government offensive in February and March which killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands of people.

Syrian media, Russian and Syrian officials have sought to downplay the impact of the joint air strikes, saying the Syrian air defences have intercepted most of the missiles. The Pentagon said no missiles were engaged.

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