Hundreds of Syrians gathered at landmark squares in the Syrian capital Saturday, honking their car horns, flashing victory signs and waving Syrian flags in scenes of defiance that followed unprecedented joint airstrikes by the United States, France and Britain.
A few hours earlier, before sunrise, loud explosions jolted Damascus and the sky turned orange as Syrian air defense units fired surface-to-air missiles in response to three waves of military strikes meant to punish President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons.
Associated Press reporters saw smoke rising from east Damascus and what appeared to be a fire light up the sky. From a distance, U.S. missiles hitting suburbs of the capital sounded like thunder. Shortly after the one-hour attack ended, vehicles with loudspeakers roamed the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.
“Good souls will not be humiliated,” Syria’s presidency tweeted after the airstrikes began.
Immediately after the attack, hundreds of residents began gathering in the landmark Omayyad square of the Syrian capital. Many waved Syrian, Russian and Iranian flags. Some clapped their hands and danced, other drove in convoys, honking their horns in defiance.
“We are your men, Bashar,” they shouted.
Syrian state TV broadcast live from the square where a large crowd of civilians mixed with men in uniforms, including an actor, lawmakers and other figures.
“Good morning steadfastness,” one broadcaster said.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday night that the three allies had launched military strikes to punish Syrian Assad for alleged chemical weapons use and to prevent him from doing it again. Trump said Washington is prepared to “sustain” pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons.
The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons. A fact-finding team of inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog was in Damascus and had been expected to head to the town of Douma on Saturday, scene of the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed more than 40 people.
Syrian TV said three civilians were wounded in one of the U.S.-led strikes on a military base in Homs, although the attack was aborted by derailing the incoming missile. It said another attack with “a number of missiles” targeting a scientific research center destroyed a building and caused other material damage but no human losses. The network says the building in the research center included an educational center and labs.
It said earlier that the attacks targeted a scientific research center in Barzeh, near Damascus, and an army depot near Homs.
Syrian media reported that air defenses had hit 13 incoming rockets south of Damascus.
The attack began at 4 a.m. (0100 GMT) with missiles hitting the eastern suburbs of Damascus, shaking the grounds from a distance. The sky looked orange over eastern Damascus apparently as a result of fires caused by the missiles hitting Syria. Air defense units fired surface-to-air missiles from different directions toward incoming missiles.
At about sunrise, the sound of explosions could be heard just as the loudspeakers from the city’s mosques called for morning prayers.
A car with loudspeakers blaring the national song “Oh Syria, You Are My Love” could be heard driving through central Damascus amid the attack.
Syrian TV called the attacks a “blatant violation of international law and shows contempt for international legitimacy”.