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Syrian Regime Dismisses Impact Of U.S.-Led Strikes


We're going to go overseas now and check in with our correspondents there. First, we're joined by NPR's Ruth Sherlock, who is in Beirut.

Ruth, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: So, first of all, would you tell us, has the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, made any statements since the U.S. and the Allies launched those airstrikes last night?

SHERLOCK: Well, Syrian state media this evening is reporting a call that happened between President Assad and Hassan Rouhani - that's his counterparts in Iran. You know, Iran is closely allied to the Syrian government. And from what they're reporting, it looks as though Assad is trying to spin the U.S.-led attack to his advantage. He's framing it as a sign of weakness, saying it's a sign that the U.S. and other countries in the West who oppose his rule and have backed militias to fight him have lost.

He's widely been seen as winning this seven-year-long civil war. And just in the days after the reported chemical attack, Jaish al-Islam, the last rebel group to pose a real threat to the government near Damascus, has surrendered. And President Assad says this attack is an admission of that.

MARTIN: What else are you seeing and hearing out of Syria?

SHERLOCK: One of the first things that Syrian state media posted this morning was a video appearing to show President Assad arriving for work on Saturday morning a few hours after the U.S.-led attack dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase. So the message here is that it's business as usual - that the Syrian regime is here to stay.

And that message carried on throughout the day. Syrian state television started broadcasting images of people gathering in squares in Aleppo and Damascus. They were waving flags. It was all very patriotic. And there was a constant series of men and women lining up to talk about how Syria won't kneel to the enemy. And they referred us to the U.S.-led attack as a terror attack.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, international investigators are on the ground trying to confirm whether, in fact, chemical weapons were deployed a week ago. What do we know?

SHERLOCK: Well, the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog has now confirmed that it's arrived in Damascus and intends to try to establish the facts of what happened there. This is going to be a very difficult mission. You know, we know very little about this reported chemical attack. We don't know what the real death toll is. It's unclear what chemical agent, if any, was used - whether it was chlorine or a nerve agent or a mix.

And it's not clear who is responsible for this. Now, the OPCW's job - this chemical weapons watchdogs job - is to go in and just try to establish the facts of whether chemical weapons were used, and then it'll be passed on to another agency to establish who is responsible.

All of this is made so much more difficult by the fact that this area has changed hands in the last week. As I said, the last group of rebels that were holding out in this enclave have been moved to Northern Syria and other rebel-held parts of Northern Syria. And now this area's in the hands of the regime. The Syrian government and its ally Russia have called this reported attack a hoax. So all of this is going to make establishing the truth of what happened all much more difficult.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ruth Sherlock reporting from Beirut.

Ruth, thank you.

SHERLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.