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View From Beirut


The Pentagon says its strikes overnight in Syria were targeted at just three facilities related to chemical weapons and were not intended to change the course of that country's 7-year-old civil war. The government of Bashar al-Assad is winning that war and today seems to be making the point that it's still in control. We're joined now by NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Beirut. Ruth, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And what's the latest you're seeing from Syria?

SHERLOCK: Well, one of the first things that Syrian state television broadcasts this morning in the hours after the attack was a video that appeared to show President Assad arriving for work at the presidential palace dressed in a sharp suit and carrying his briefcase. So the message is clear - this is meant to be business as usual. Other footage from state television shows the regime pushing this line of defiance. You've got - it shows people gathering in central squares in Aleppo waving Syrian flags, and the people they're interviewing are saying that they won't kneel to the enemy. Of course, they're calling the strikes a terror attack.

SIMON: Do Syrian state TV or broadcasting indicate what places were hit?

SHERLOCK: They have broadcast some images of what they say is the scientific research center near Damascus, which is one of the places that's believed to have been targeted. It's said to have been a place where chemical weapons has been manufactured in the past. They showed footage of piles of rubble and destroyed building. Now, the full extent of how much damage has been made to the targets that were hit and more detail on the targets is yet to come out. I spoke to one analyst who is from a pro-opposition think tank in Turkey, but he said he believes about 60 percent of the targeted infrastructure has been destroyed.

SIMON: The Pentagon says that these attacks were not intended to change the course of the war in Syria. What do opposition leaders say?

SHERLOCK: Well, they're expressing a lot of disappointment and frustration. The regime, as you say, has the upper hand and just after the reported attack in Douma, Jaysh al-Islam, which is the last real threat to the government in Damascus, has been - has surrendered and moved to the north of the country. We managed to reach Mohammed Alloush, the leader of that group.

MOHAMMED ALLOUSH: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: So here he's saying he thinks the strikes are not enough. He says they targeted what he calls the instruments of the criminal Bashar al-Assad, but they've left the criminal free, and that isn't justice. He thinks they should have targeted the Syrian president himself.

Overall, the strikes seemed to have dealt, you know, some - a blow to some of the regime's military infrastructure, but it doesn't look indeed like they're going to change the course of the civil war.

SIMON: These strikes have taken place before any independent observers were able to get to the site of the alleged chemical attack last week. What's the status of that inspection and are inspectors still on the way?

SHERLOCK: Yes. The OPCW, the chemical weapons watchdog, has said that they're going to keep up with their mission. And they're actually due - it's believed they're due to deploy today to Douma. That's the suburb of Damascus where the chemical attack apparently took place. We should say, you know, all these strikes have happened before the facts of that attack - the death toll, what chemical agent was used and even who is responsible - has been independently established.

SIMON: NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Beirut, thanks so much for being with us.

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