A French Honor Not Always for the Honorable; Assad Returns His


Philippe Pétain received the award for his service as France’s military leader in World War I, but he was stripped of it — and imprisoned — after World War II for working with the country’s Nazi conquerors as leader of the Vichy government. Maurice Papon, who held several positions in French government, had his honor revoked after being convicted in 1998 of taking part in sending Jews to concentration camps.

But some non-French recipients, like Mr. Assad and Mr. Noriega, were the subject of doubts in real time, not just in hindsight.

For French honorees, the award — known formally as the National Order of the Legion of Honour — is for “outstanding merit acquired in the service of the nation,” and foreigners can receive it for services to or causes supported by France. (The list of American recipients is heavy on show business figures like Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Lewis and Martin Scorsese.)

But, as the order’s website explains, there is another route to the prize. “State visits are also an occasion for conferring the Legion of Honor upon official figures, pursuant to diplomatic reciprocity and thereby supporting the foreign policy of France,” it says.

A spokeswoman for the order said, “it’s a way to show the two countries maintain relations.”

Though the honor is, at least in name, bestowed by the French president, the order effectively takes the lead in making most choices. But the medals awarded in state visits are given at the government’s discretion.

Photo

President Jacques Chirac presenting the Legion of Honor to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Paris in 2006.

Credit
Vladimir Rodionov/TASS, via Getty Images

In 2001, Jacques Chirac, then the president of France, presented the Legion of Honor to Mr. Assad, who had taken power the year before. Little was known at the time about Mr. Assad, who had inherited the leadership of an oppressive government that was long headed by his father, but Western governments were eager to improve relations with Syria.

France recently began the process of revoking Mr. Assad’s medal, after joining with the United States and Britain last week in missile strikes on Syria, in retaliation for what is believed to be the latest instance in which the Assad government used chemical weapons on civilians. He has called such accusations baseless.

Rather than wait for that process to play out, Mr. Assad returned the medal, the diplomatic equivalent of quitting before being fired. In a statement, the Syrian Foreign Ministry described the award as a decoration given by a “follower of the United States that supports terrorists.”

In giving out honors, the risk of regret is higher with a prize awarded as liberally as the Legion’s green, white and gold medal on a red ribbon. The honor can be given each year to as many as 2,600 French citizens, who become members of the Order of the Legion, and up to 320 foreigners, who are honorees but not members.

Until last year, the maximum number of recipients each year was higher.

The Legion, created by Napoleon in 1802, has gone to more than one million people. French officials have estimated that there are about 93,000 living recipients.

The order does not reveal how many of the awards have been revoked.

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After Trump Strikes Syria, Syrians Wonder ‘What’s Next?’


Seven years in, some now argue that the only realistic way to stop the war, prevent a jihadist resurgence and allow the country to move on is to acknowledge that Mr. Assad, with help from Iran and Russia, will remain in power and to effectively let him win.

Once the guns fall quiet, they say, Syria’s other sizable issues can be addressed: the fight between Turkey and the Kurds in the north; the shadow war between Iran and Israel; and the rebuilding of destroyed communities so that refugees can return.

Ceding that much to Mr. Assad has long been anathema in Washington and other Western capitals, where policymakers believe he should be punished for his brutality during the war and have vowed not to contribute to reconstruction as long as he remains in power.

Some counter that if the West refuses to invest the resources needed to determine Syria’s future, its efforts to penalize Mr. Assad will make life worse for average Syrians.

“You are not punishing Assad, you are punishing the poor Syrian people,” said Joshua Landis, the director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. “If America’s objectives are countering terrorism, stabilization and the return of refugees, all of these will fail.”

President Trump ordered Saturday’s strikes, which were carried out in conjunction with Britain and France, to punish Mr. Assad for an apparent chemical attack in Douma a week before.

Photo

Syrians in the Old City of Damascus on Sunday.

Credit
Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

The strikes were not intended to topple Mr. Assad, damage the Russian and Iranian allies that support his troops, or protect civilians from violence. In fact, they were meticulously planned and executed to avoid altering the overall dynamics of the conflict and keep the United States from getting dragged further in.

That frustrated Mr. Assad’s foes.

“The American strikes did not change anything for Syrians,” said Osama Shoghari, an anti-government activist from Douma who is struggling to start a new life in an unfamiliar town 180 miles away from his home. “They did not change anything on the ground.”

The West’s resistance to further intervention is good news for Russia and Iran, and of course for Mr. Assad, who was happy on Sunday, according to a group of Russian politicians who visited him.

“President Assad has an absolutely positive attitude, a good mood,” said Natalya Komarova, a member of the delegation, according to Russian news agencies.

But in an acknowledgment of the war’s toll, another visitor reported that Mr. Assad said rebuilding Syria could cost $400 billion.

If the primary message of the strikes was that Mr. Assad could not use chemical weapons, a secondary message was that the West was going to leave him in power, no matter what else he did.

“Even if this is a chemical weapons deterrent, that leaves a whole arsenal of conventional means with which people can be killed in Syria with few real repercussions,” said Sam Heller, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group who studies Syria. “There is every reason to expect that that will continue.”

Seven years of conflict have seen Syria sliced up by world powers, with the Turks administering towns in the north, the United States working with Kurdish-led militias in the east, and Russia and Iran helping Mr. Assad rout the remaining pockets of rebels elsewhere.

At this point, no one seems to have a realistic plan to broker a lasting peace between those forces that would bring Syria together again in a stable enough way to allow millions of refugees to return home and for rebuilding to begin. Many discount the idea that Mr. Assad can play a meaningful role in that process.

“It very shortsighted and erroneous in my mind,” said Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. “Facilitating a win for Assad is making sure that Syria remains the epicenter of instability in the region.”

Research by the center has found that if Mr. Assad remains in power, it would discourage the return of Syrian refugees from neighboring countries and Europe. “They are not going back as long as Assad is in power because they don’t believe that there will be safety and stability while Assad is there,” Ms. Yahya said.

The only solution, she said, is a settlement between Russia and the United States that other powers, like Turkey and Iran, could eventually be brought into. But reaching such an agreement would involve an intensity of diplomatic efforts that Mr. Trump’s administration is not interested in.

Photo

Syrian families displaced from eastern Ghouta held pots as they waited to receive food at a shelter in the Damascus countryside on Friday.

Credit
Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

After announcing Saturday’s strikes, Mr. Trump painted a pessimistic view of the United States’ ability to effect change in the Middle East.

“No amount of American blood or treasure can produce lasting peace and security in the Middle East,” he said. “It’s a troubled place. We will try to make it better, but it is a troubled place.”

He suggested that Arab allies could play an increased role, mentioning Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar. But the first two are bogged down in a war in Yemen, and the first three are locked in a bitter dispute with the fourth, making it unclear how they would work together to fix Syria.

Before the strikes, Mr. Trump froze $200 million in stabilization aid for Syria and said that he wanted to bring home the roughly 2,000 American troops now in eastern Syria.

Besides working with a Kurdish-led militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight the Islamic State, the United States is helping restore areas like the city of Raqqa that were recently retaken from the jihadists.

Given the tremendous damage to the city, this is a gargantuan task, said Mustafa al-Abed, of the Raqqa Civil Council, which is supported by the United States. Among his group’s priorities are fixing the water and electricity networks, clearing rubble from roads and restoring irrigation networks so that farmers can plant.

But before that can happen, and before residents can return to their homes, the city must be cleared of the many mines and explosive booby traps that the jihadists planted before their defeat.

“They are everywhere,” Mr. Abed said of the mines. “In homes, in cars, in roads. There is no normal size or place. They are everywhere.”

He was dismissive of Saturday’s strikes, which he said were preceded by so many threats from Mr. Trump that the Syrian government had ample time to evacuate buildings and hide sensitive materials.

“They have used all kinds of weapons,” he said, of the Syrian government’s forces. “So the strikes should have been strong enough to break the back of the regime.”

The only thing that was preventing the government, Russia and Iran from returning to his part of the country was the presence of American troops, he said. He feared what would happen if the United States left.

“We will go back to being a region of struggles, like we were before,” he said. “We’ll return to fighting and fear and blood.”

Continue reading the main story

News Analysis: A Hard Lesson in Syria: Assad Can Still Gas His Own People


So far, officials say, two factors make them wonder whether the facilities were still central to Syria’s program. At this point, there are no known casualties at the sites, which suggests that either no one was there during the evening, or they had been previously abandoned. And there are no reports of chemical agent leakage from the sites, despite attacks by more than 100 sea- and air-launched missiles.

Whether those particular sites were still in use or not, the conflict in Syria has demonstrated a larger truth: While it is easy to blow up Mr. Assad’s chemical facilities, it is also relatively simple for him to reconstitute them elsewhere, or just turn to a commercially available substance like chlorine to make a crude poison that any nation is allowed to possess.

That may explain why General McKenzie was a little more circumspect than his predecessors in forecasting the long-range effectiveness of the latest strikes.

“I would say there’s still a residual element of the Syrian program that’s out there,” he told reporters at the Pentagon on Saturday.

“I believe that we took the heart of it out with the attacks that we accomplished last night,” he continued. But he added that “I’m not going to say that they are going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future.” Instead, he said, he believed that “they’ll think long and hard about it.”

His comment seemed to reflect a central fact: Mr. Assad has learned a lot about how to hide his stockpiles from inspectors. One of the failings of the accord between Russia and the United States that was supposed to rid Syria of chemical arms in 2014 was that it was based on Syria’s “declared” stockpiles, a nuance Mr. Kerry took care to note. There was never confidence that the Russians had succeeded in removing as many weapons stores as they claimed, or in destroying production facilities.

Photo

A photograph said to show victims of a chemical attack a week ago on Douma, near Damascus.

Credit
Emad Aldin/EPA, via Shutterstock

One of the sites struck on Saturday, the Barzeh research and development center, has long been known to American intelligence officials and to international inspectors, according to a senior intelligence official.

Administration officials briefing reporters Saturday afternoon said that equipment at that site and two others — the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility and a nearby “bunker facility” — were destroyed, setting back Mr. Assad’s program by months or years. But they were careful not to claim that the facilities were actively in use at the time of the attack.

“In relation to the Barzeh target, yes, we assessed that there were probably some chemical and nerve agents in that target,” General McKenzie said. Those, however, could have been residual, or long abandoned.

Sophisticated facilities are not needed to produce chlorine, the agent that Syrian forces are suspected to have used a week ago to kill dozens of civilians, including children. It is commercially available, used for water systems. And the nerve agent sarin, which the White House has said may also have been used a week ago, can be produced just about anywhere, as a French intelligence report released on Saturday noted.

The report concludes that “the Syrian military retains expertise from its traditional chemical weapons agent program to both use sarin and produce and deploy chlorine munitions.” The United States, it noted, “also assesses the regime still has chemicals — specifically sarin and chlorine — that it can use in future attacks.”

That is a stark difference from the declarations made in June 2014, when the joint mission between the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons trumpeted that Syria or other parties had destroyed, with the exception of a dozen facilities, all “declared production, mixing and filling equipment and munitions, as well as many buildings associated with its declared chemical weapons program.”

Chlorine presents a particular challenge for governments and organizations seeking to control chemical weapons. It is both very lethal and very necessary, and legal to possess in all nations, said Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Mr. Knights, who studied the use of chlorine as a weapon by Al Qaeda in Iraq a decade ago, said that the militants used to pair it with explosives, which would burn it off. Using it the way Mr. Assad’s forces have — essentially dropping it in concentrated form in a barrel — can lead to far more casualties.

“The most dangerous prospect was that someone would use chlorine in the way that the Syrian regime has done and disperse it in a whole community,” he said. “It is a dangerous element, and you cannot remove it from any environment in the Middle East,” given its importance in water purification.

As a result, chemical weapons treaties do not bar its possession. But the Chemical Weapons Convention, which went into force in 1997 and which Syria joined, under pressure, in 2013, does bar deliberately using it as a poison gas.

Nations have been finding loopholes in such international agreements — or ignoring them entirely — since the first failed efforts to bar such weaponry more than a century ago. Mr. Assad has clearly calculated that turning a widely available chemical into a weapon to clear out neighborhoods and create terror is a potent option.

What We Know About the Three Sites Targeted in Syria

American officials called the sites “fundamental components” of Syria’s chemical weapons program.


“For me, the big story is chlorine; it’s not sarin,” Mr. Knights said. “The regime has been good at using a chemical weapon that has enormous availability and is produced in completely legal, dual-use facilities and vital to the running of any country.”

“Intent is the problem when you’ve got a regime that loves using this stuff,” he added. “You either have to deter the regime from using it by imposing significant costs, or you have to get rid of the regime. But there is no way you can get rid of the capability.”

No international investigative body has yet determined what chemicals were used in the attack last Saturday in Douma, near Damascus. The American intelligence assessments suggest that while chlorine was the primary chemical, “some additional information points to the regime also using” sarin, which is more dangerous and harder to handle.

Videos taken in the aftermath of the attack show large yellow canisters that experts have said appear to be chlorine tanks, of the kind often used for civilian purposes.

Some videos show one canister that appears to have either broken through a wall or flown through a hole in it and landed on a bed without exploding.

Another video shows a similar canister that appears to have knocked a hole in the concrete roof of an apartment building.

Syrian activists who visited the site, as well as a report by Bellingcat, a group that conducts investigations with open-source data, said that the canister had fallen on the roof of a building where dozens of people had been sheltering on the lower floors.

The available evidence suggests that whatever substance was in the canister was released after it landed and wafted down the stairs, killing those on the floors below.

Subsequent videos show dozens of men, women and children lying lifeless on the ground with foam coming from their mouths and nostrils and what appear to be burned corneas. Both symptoms can be caused by chlorine.

In a series of tweets after studying the attack, Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, said that the canister appeared to have been dropped toward no specific target, and had just happened to land on a densely packed building.

Had the canister fallen elsewhere, Mr. Higgins wrote, “we’d see a fraction of deaths, and you probably wouldn’t have even heard about it happening.”

“It was really just thanks to the catastrophic success of the chlorine attack that anyone even cared, not anything that Assad could have planned for,” Mr. Higgins wrote.

Continue reading the main story

News Analysis: A Hard Lesson in Syria: Assad Can Still Gas His Own People


So far, officials say, two factors make them wonder whether the facilities were still central to Syria’s program. At this point, there are no known casualties at the sites, which suggests that either no one was there during the evening, or they had been previously abandoned. And there are no reports of chemical agent leakage from the sites, despite attacks by more than 100 sea- and air-launched missiles.

Whether those particular sites were still in use or not, the conflict in Syria has demonstrated a larger truth: While it is easy to blow up Mr. Assad’s chemical facilities, it is also relatively simple for him to reconstitute them elsewhere, or just turn to a commercially available substance like chlorine to make a crude poison that any nation is allowed to possess.

That may explain why General McKenzie was a little more circumspect than his predecessors in forecasting the long-range effectiveness of the latest strikes.

“I would say there’s still a residual element of the Syrian program that’s out there,” he told reporters at the Pentagon on Saturday.

“I believe that we took the heart of it out with the attacks that we accomplished last night,” he continued. But he added that “I’m not going to say that they are going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future.” Instead, he said, he believed that “they’ll think long and hard about it.”

His comment seemed to reflect a central fact: Mr. Assad has learned a lot about how to hide his stockpiles from inspectors. One of the failings of the accord between Russia and the United States that was supposed to rid Syria of chemical arms in 2014 was that it was based on Syria’s “declared” stockpiles, a nuance Mr. Kerry took care to note. There was never confidence that the Russians had succeeded in removing as many weapons stores as they claimed, or in destroying production facilities.

Photo

A photograph said to show victims of a chemical attack a week ago on Douma, near Damascus.

Credit
Emad Aldin/EPA, via Shutterstock

One of the sites struck on Saturday, the Barzeh research and development center, has long been known to American intelligence officials and to international inspectors, according to a senior intelligence official.

Administration officials briefing reporters Saturday afternoon said that equipment at that site and two others — the Him Shinshar chemical weapons storage facility and a nearby “bunker facility” — were destroyed, setting back Mr. Assad’s program by months or years. But they were careful not to claim that the facilities were actively in use at the time of the attack.

“In relation to the Barzeh target, yes, we assessed that there were probably some chemical and nerve agents in that target,” General McKenzie said. Those, however, could have been residual, or long abandoned.

Sophisticated facilities are not needed to produce chlorine, the agent that Syrian forces are suspected to have used a week ago to kill dozens of civilians, including children. It is commercially available, used for water systems. And the nerve agent sarin, which the White House has said may also have been used a week ago, can be produced just about anywhere, as a French intelligence report released on Saturday noted.

The report concludes that “the Syrian military retains expertise from its traditional chemical weapons agent program to both use sarin and produce and deploy chlorine munitions.” The United States, it noted, “also assesses the regime still has chemicals — specifically sarin and chlorine — that it can use in future attacks.”

That is a stark difference from the declarations made in June 2014, when the joint mission between the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons trumpeted that Syria or other parties had destroyed, with the exception of a dozen facilities, all “declared production, mixing and filling equipment and munitions, as well as many buildings associated with its declared chemical weapons program.”

Chlorine presents a particular challenge for governments and organizations seeking to control chemical weapons. It is both very lethal and very necessary, and legal to possess in all nations, said Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Mr. Knights, who studied the use of chlorine as a weapon by Al Qaeda in Iraq a decade ago, said that the militants used to pair it with explosives, which would burn it off. Using it the way Mr. Assad’s forces have — essentially dropping it in concentrated form in a barrel — can lead to far more casualties.

“The most dangerous prospect was that someone would use chlorine in the way that the Syrian regime has done and disperse it in a whole community,” he said. “It is a dangerous element, and you cannot remove it from any environment in the Middle East,” given its importance in water purification.

As a result, chemical weapons treaties do not bar its possession. But the Chemical Weapons Convention, which went into force in 1997 and which Syria joined, under pressure, in 2013, does bar deliberately using it as a poison gas.

Nations have been finding loopholes in such international agreements — or ignoring them entirely — since the first failed efforts to bar such weaponry more than a century ago. Mr. Assad has clearly calculated that turning a widely available chemical into a weapon to clear out neighborhoods and create terror is a potent option.

What We Know About the Three Sites Targeted in Syria

American officials called the sites “fundamental components” of Syria’s chemical weapons program.


“For me, the big story is chlorine; it’s not sarin,” Mr. Knights said. “The regime has been good at using a chemical weapon that has enormous availability and is produced in completely legal, dual-use facilities and vital to the running of any country.”

“Intent is the problem when you’ve got a regime that loves using this stuff,” he added. “You either have to deter the regime from using it by imposing significant costs, or you have to get rid of the regime. But there is no way you can get rid of the capability.”

No international investigative body has yet determined what chemicals were used in the attack last Saturday in Douma, near Damascus. The American intelligence assessments suggest that while chlorine was the primary chemical, “some additional information points to the regime also using” sarin, which is more dangerous and harder to handle.

Videos taken in the aftermath of the attack show large yellow canisters that experts have said appear to be chlorine tanks, of the kind often used for civilian purposes.

Some videos show one canister that appears to have either broken through a wall or flown through a hole in it and landed on a bed without exploding.

Another video shows a similar canister that appears to have knocked a hole in the concrete roof of an apartment building.

Syrian activists who visited the site, as well as a report by Bellingcat, a group that conducts investigations with open-source data, said that the canister had fallen on the roof of a building where dozens of people had been sheltering on the lower floors.

The available evidence suggests that whatever substance was in the canister was released after it landed and wafted down the stairs, killing those on the floors below.

Subsequent videos show dozens of men, women and children lying lifeless on the ground with foam coming from their mouths and nostrils and what appear to be burned corneas. Both symptoms can be caused by chlorine.

In a series of tweets after studying the attack, Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, said that the canister appeared to have been dropped toward no specific target, and had just happened to land on a densely packed building.

Had the canister fallen elsewhere, Mr. Higgins wrote, “we’d see a fraction of deaths, and you probably wouldn’t have even heard about it happening.”

“It was really just thanks to the catastrophic success of the chlorine attack that anyone even cared, not anything that Assad could have planned for,” Mr. Higgins wrote.

Continue reading the main story

Divided on Strikes, Democrats and Republicans Press for Clearer Syria Strategy


Representative Ed Royce, Republican of California and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said his committee would hold a hearing in the coming days to examine American policy in the region. He said he expected the Trump administration to begin clarifying its views.

“Military force cannot be the only means of responding to these atrocities,” he said.

Democrats, who have found precious little ground on which to agree with Mr. Trump, generally offered narrower praise, with some denouncing the strikes — conducted alongside Britain and France but without Congress’s assent — as illegal.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, described “a pinpointed, limited action” as “appropriate” but warned the United States against being drawn into a larger war with the Syrian government.

Representative Eliot Engel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he held little hope that the administration would succeed in deterring Syria from using chemical weapons.

“A year ago, when our military struck targets in Syria in response to another chemical weapons attack, I warned that such an action with no strategy to back it up would fail,” he said. “Tonight’s announcement seems like history repeating, and there’s no reason to expect a different result absent a broader Syria strategy.”

Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, who sits on both the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, said that Mr. Trump had seriously erred in not seeking Congress’s consent.

“President Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against the Syrian government without Congress’s approval is illegal and — absent a broader strategy — it’s reckless,” he said.

Mr. Kaine warned that allowing Mr. Trump to strike a foreign power without such authorization could provide a dangerous precedent.

“Today, it’s a strike on Syria — what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?” he said.

At the insistence of Mr. Kaine and others, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to begin debate this month on a new authorization of military force against terrorist and other extremist groups, including in Syria. The authorization, commonly referred to as an A.U.M.F., would replace a law passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But it would not address Mr. Assad’s government or the possibility of a larger use of force to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

Photo

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, earlier this week. He warned against the United States being wrapped into a larger war with the Syrian regime.

Credit
Tom Brenner/The New York Times

A handful of Republicans joined Democrats in questioning the validity of the operation. Representative Thomas Massie, a conservative Republican from Kentucky, quipped on Twitter that he could not recall the Constitution giving the president the authority to strike Syria.

In a statement, Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, warned that “it is vitally important that the Trump administration honors the Constitution by working with Congress on further military action.”

“The United States is not at war with the people of Syria, and I anticipate that the administration will quickly present their long-term intentions to the American people,” he continued.

Still, not all Republicans had reservations. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas and one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress, gave unqualified approval.

“The Butcher of Damascus learned two lessons tonight the hard way,” he said, referring to Mr. Assad. “Weapons of mass destruction won’t create a military advantage once the United States is done with you, and Russia cannot protect its clients from the United States.”

And Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, urged the administration to act more aggressively, fretting, “I fear that when the dust settles this strike will be seen as a weak military response, and Assad will have paid a small price for using chemical weapons yet again.”

“Assad has likely calculated a limited American strike is just the cost of doing business,” he said. “Russia and Iran will view the limited action as the United States being content to drop a few bombs before heading for the exits.“

Continue reading the main story

In Moscow, a Sense of Relief After a Limited Syria Attack


Mr. Assad has become something of a “human shield” limiting Russia’s options, noted Vladimir Frolov, an independent foreign affairs analyst and columnist for Republic.ru, “but it was a choice that Moscow made.”

President Putin often waits for days before weighing in on an international crisis, so his issuing a statement within hours of the attack indicated that the Kremlin considered it a critical situation.

Mr. Putin called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the attack. Other than that, however, he limited himself to repeating Russian claims that no chemical attack had taken place to warrant the onslaught, and that Washington was only worsening a dire humanitarian crisis.

“Russia condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack against Syria, where Russian military personnel are assisting the legitimate government in its counterterrorism efforts,” Mr. Putin said in the statement. “Through its actions, the U.S. makes the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Syria even worse and brings suffering to civilians.”

Like Mr. Assad, Russia condemns all opponents of the Syrian government as “terrorists.”

The calmer tone was a noticeable change from preceding weeks, when many commentators suggested that the United States and Russia were slouching toward a replay of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which brought the two Cold War adversaries to the brink of a nuclear confrontation.

Some Russian news outlets, while trying to make light of the panic mode, also provided practical advice, like which Moscow metro stations were the most secure against nuclear attack and how much water people should take with them to a bomb shelter.

Photo

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria in eastern Ghouta last month. Mr. Assad labels all opponents of the Syrian government “terrorists.”

Credit
Syrian Arab News Agency, via European Pressphoto Agency

In the weeks before the attack, Moscow issued repeated warnings, particularly from Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of staff for the armed forces, that the Kremlin would “take retaliatory measures.” The general hinged his warning on the important caveat that Russia would attack missiles and the platforms from which they were launched only in the event that Russian military personnel were placed in danger.

The attack was barely over before the Defense Ministry rushed out its statement stressing that its two main installations in Syria — the air base at Hmeimim and the naval base at Tartus — had not been threatened.

Lt. Gen. Sergei F. Rudskoi, the head of the military’s operations department, said at a briefing that no cruise missiles fired during the attack entered the Russian air-defense zones and repeated the Russian assertion that the attack had nothing to do with chemical weapons.

“We believe that this strike is not a response to an alleged chemical attack, but a reaction to the successes of the Syrian armed forces in the struggle to liberate their territory from international terrorism,” he said.

If anything, the Kremlin may have been somewhat pleased, albeit secretly, that the United States had hit targets well away from the primary areas of Russian control, one analyst suggested.

“Russia has its own zone of interests in Syria, which is on the shore of the Mediterranean,” said Aleksei V. Makarkin, of the Center for Political Technologies.

“The U.S. hit targets that are outside of this zone,” he said. “Of course Russia is upset, but this is just an element of the new Cold War, only one element among several, including sanctions, which are a much more serious problem for Russia.”

In one telling sign of the lack of urgency regarding Syria, the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian Parliament, put out a statement saying it would discuss the airstrikes “next week.”

At home, of course, the bluster will continue. “For the domestic audience, everything will be covered by tough statements,” said Mr. Golts, the military analyst, noting that few in Russia will complain that the Kremlin did not follow through on its threats to attack the United States military assets in the region.

While the Russian military has undergone an overhaul in recent years and has developed some high-tech cruise missiles and other weapons, a direct confrontation with the United States forces in Syria risked a humiliating walloping, he noted.

The secretive Russian mercenary forces in Syria already lost “a couple of hundred” fighters in a skirmish with American-backed Kurdish forces in February, the C.I.A. director and secretary of state nominee, Mike Pompeo, said in Senate testimony last week. Russia had no desire for a similar confrontation involving its regular forces.

Photo

Lt. Gen. Sergei F. Rudskoi said at a briefing Saturday that no cruise missiles fired during an attack Saturday morning by the United States and its allies entered Russia’s air-defense zones.

Credit
Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Putin has twin goals in Syria. First, he is staunchly opposed to regime change fostered by outsiders of the kind that brought chaos to Iraq and Libya.

Second, he sees Syria as leverage to restore Moscow not only to its role as a power broker in the Middle East, but to the status of world policeman that it shared with the United States in Soviet days. The fact that Mr. Trump has started to criticize him and Russia more openly for allying with Mr. Assad has yet to dent those hopes.

In his speech Friday night, Mr. Trump said Russia and Iran should not want to be associated with a “mass murderer” like Mr. Assad, and — as he did after a more limited attack on Syria for the same reason a year ago — declared that Mr. Putin and Russia had failed to fulfill the promise to eliminate all Syria’s chemical weapons.

“Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace,” Mr. Trump said. “Hopefully, someday we’ll get along with Russia and maybe even Iran, but maybe not.”

Mr. Putin will accept limited strikes against Syria that do not indicate a sustained American effort to help the opposition, said Mr. Frolov, the foreign affairs analyst, and would avoid engaging Mr. Trump on the rest.

“The Kremlin is still hoping for a summit with Trump, so it will largely ignore his comments about Putin,” Mr. Frolov said. “There is still some residual hope that a good personal meeting may turn things around.”

The Russians did crow that Syrian air defense systems had managed to shoot down a dozen or so cruise missiles, using equipment “manufactured more than 30 years ago in the Soviet Union,” according to the Interfax news agency. The United States military did not confirm or deny the assertion.

The Russian Foreign Ministry greeted the missile attack with its habitual sarcasm. Without naming the United States specifically, Maria Zakharova, the spokesman for the ministry, zeroed in on the claims of moral leadership and exceptionalism among the allies who launched the attack.

“You have to be really exceptional to shell Syria’s capital at the moment when the country is getting a chance for a peaceful future,” she wrote on Facebook.

In a news briefing on Saturday, a spokeswoman for the United States Defense Department, Dana W. White, said, “The Russian disinformation campaign has already begun.” She noted, “There has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the last 24 hours.”

Even with the immediate threat of a confrontation out of the way, several Russian analysts noted that the proximity of the two sides in Syria, not to mention the shifting positions of Mr. Trump, left plenty of room for confrontation.

“The danger is that at one point something completely unexpected and spontaneous can happen — for instance a missile can miss its target and hit something sensitive,” said Mr. Makarkin.

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With Eye on Issues at Home, May and Macron Back Trump on Syria Strikes


At the same time, Mr. Macron is trying to reinforce France’s position as an enforcer of international treaties, which includes the Chemical Weapons Convention that 192 countries have signed.

Mrs. May is in a more precarious position, with a tense standoff developing with Russia over the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, with a weapons-grade nerve agent. Mrs. May has been under pressure to respond forcefully to Moscow for the attack, which exposed hundreds of citizens in southwest England to the deadly substance.

On Saturday, the British leader described the airstrikes in Syria as “right and legal,” drawing an explicit distinction between those and the poisoning of the Skripals — the first use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War II.

Mrs. May also benefited from the timing of the airstrikes, two days before lawmakers were to return from vacation. While not obligated to consult Parliament, she may have felt constrained to do so and could easily have lost a vote on a strike. Another imperative for Britain was to reciprocate the support that London has received from the United States in the dispute with Russia over the poisoning.

“I don’t think she had much choice,” said Justin Bronk, a research fellow for air power at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense and security focused research institute in London. “By announcing the strikes through Twitter, President Trump made this a personal call to action with his own image and credibility at stake, and he’s an openly transactional president.”

Britain also wants to prove its use as an ally to Mr. Trump at a time when its international influence is under question because of its withdrawal from the European Union, and as it hopes to strengthen trade ties with the United States.

On Saturday, as reaction to the strikes rolled in from around the world, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter: “A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

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Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain drew an explicit distinction between the missile strikes in Syria and the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil.

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Pool photo by Will Oliver

Opinion polls suggested that the British public’s support for strikes was lukewarm. So in backing Mr. Trump’s airstrikes without seeking prior approval from lawmakers, Mrs. May took a political risk, albeit one that should be manageable unless the conflict escalates.

The prime minister did come in for criticism. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, criticized Mrs. May, arguing that “bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace.”

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, faulted Mrs. May for failing to follow recent precedent and seek parliamentary approval. But Mrs. May brushed aside the protests, presenting her decision to order “limited, targeted and effective” strikes against Syria as vital in deterring future use of chemical weapons.

London has looked on with concern as Mr. Macron has cultivated close ties with Mr. Trump, while Mrs. May’s relationship with the White House has been more complicated and tense.

Mr. Macron, for his part, faced criticism on the far left and the far right for his decision to join the attack on Syrian targets. The leader of the far left France Insoumise party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, accused Mr. Macron on Twitter of attacking Syria without proof of chemical weapons use and without a United Nations mandate, a European Union agreement or a vote of the French Parliament.

“This is a North American adventure of revenge, an irresponsible escalation,” Mr. Mélenchon said.

On the extreme right, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Front, said France had lost a chance to “appear on the international scene as an independent power.” The party’s deputy leader, Nicolas Bay, called Mr. Macron “a vassal” of the United States.

For both Mrs. May and Mr. Macron, the strikes made good on their respective predecessors’ pledges to retaliate over Syria’s use of chemical weapons. In 2013, when the government of President Bashar al-Assad was suspected of using chemical weapons on his own people, both François Hollande, then president of France, and David Cameron, then Britain’s prime minister, said he had cross their red lines.

But when it came down to launching the missiles, Mr. Cameron failed to secure Parliament’s approval, and Mr. Hollande backed down when it became clear that President Barack Obama had second thoughts because he was afraid of being drawn into a larger fight with Mr. Assad.

It was easier for the leaders to sign on to this missile attack, as there was no discussion about a far-reaching military campaign or about regime change. And there was an explicit effort to avoid hitting bases where troops from Russia and Iran, allies of Mr. Assad, might be amassed.

The United Nations Security Council was meeting on Saturday afternoon to discuss the missile strikes in Syria. European Union foreign ministers, meanwhile, planned to meet on Monday to tackle the tense situation in Syria. A draft statement, written before the strikes, proposed looking at fresh sanctions on Syria, including blacklisting more people over the development and use of chemical arms.

The NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, expressed support for the strikes by its three member states, saying that they “will reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons.”

Mr. Stoltenberg said in a statement that Syria’s use of chemical weapons was “a clear breach of international norms and agreements.”

He added, “NATO considers the use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security, and believes that it is essential to protect the Chemical Weapons Convention,” which Syria signed in 2013, leading to a ban in the country on the manufacture or use of such weapons.

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News Analysis: ‘Mission Accomplished’? But What Is the Mission in Syria?


Many veterans of Washington policymaking in the Middle East offered conditional praise for Mr. Trump’s restrained approach to the strike, if not necessarily his rhetoric. In hitting three sites associated with Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons capabilities, limiting it to a single night and conducting it in conjunction with Britain and France, they said it sent a message while avoiding a deeper involvement and minimizing the risk of provoking Syria’s patrons, Russia and Iran, into retaliating themselves.

“However, I don’t think the strike clarifies U.S. policy,” said Meghan O’Sullivan, who oversaw the Iraq war as Mr. Bush’s deputy national security adviser. “In theory, there is not necessarily an inconsistency between a targeted, multilateral strike against chemical weapons sites and the withdrawal of troops that have been fighting ISIS. But the strike does really call into question the wisdom of pulling back American forces now in highlighting the question of what our objective really is in Syria.”

Others argued that the strike was a waste that accomplished little and, in the process, exceeded the president’s authority as commander in chief since he did not obtain authorization from Congress first. Critics said that if Mr. Trump was truly moved by humanitarian concern over the victims of last weekend’s attack, he should reverse his policy of banning virtually all Syrian refugees.

“The ongoing bloodshed and war crimes in Syria are a stark reminder that Syrian civilians need our support now more than ever,” Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam America said in a statement. “Yet the Trump administration still lacks a coherent strategy to actually bring an end to the conflict and instead has sought to slash humanitarian aid and slam the door on Syrian refugees.”

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Debris at the Syrian Scientific Research Center, near Damascus, which was targeted by American, British and French military strikes. The airstrikes against research and military targets were part of what officials said was an effort to deter future chemical attacks.

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Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

By most accounts, the strike essentially left in place the status quo on the ground. It did little if anything to weaken Mr. Assad beyond any chemical weapons stores it destroyed, leaving him to continue waging war on his own people through conventional means. It did nothing to exact the “big price” Mr. Trump promised to impose on Russia and Iran for enabling Mr. Assad’s chemical attacks.

Indeed, Mr. Trump has shown little interest in trying to steer Syria to a resolution of its civil war, eschewing the sort of Geneva diplomacy that consumed Mr. Obama’s last secretary of state, John F. Kerry, to little apparent effect. Mr. Trump sees Syria in two boxes — the fight against the Islamic State, in which he has declared near victory, and the multisided civil war that he wants no part of, saying as he did just days ago, “Let the other people take care of it now.”

But that is an artificial bifurcation in a country torn by violence on all sides. The civil war affects the ability of the Islamic State to operate and vice versa. Mr. Trump may have opted for the more cautious approach urged by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis instead of a more crippling attack that may have been favored by his new national security adviser, John R. Bolton, but he did not settle the larger question.

Asked on Friday before the missiles began flying to explain America’s strategy in Syria, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, demurred. “I’m not going to get ahead of the president,” she said.

Even when the president spoke later that night, however, he was somewhat vague in describing his own strategy. While he said he was “prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” he did not explain what he meant or how far he was willing to go.

Mr. Trump often seems unaware of history, even recent history. His use of the phrase “mission accomplished” on Saturday, for example, invited unwelcome comparisons to Mr. Bush’s experience. Mr. Bush appeared on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in May 2003 after American troops toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq and declared the end of major combat operations. Behind him was a large banner declaring “Mission Accomplished,” which White House aides later said was meant as a congratulations to the carrier crew returning home but became a metaphor for miscalculation as a virulent insurgency emerged.

“Um…I would have recommended ending this tweet with not those two words,” Ari Fleischer, who was Mr. Bush’s White House press secretary at the time, wrote on Twitter on Saturday. At the time, he said, the words seemed fitting. “By the Fall,” he added, “the shot of Bush with the banner became a symbol of what went wrong.”

Phillip H. Gordon, who was Mr. Obama’s White House coordinator of Middle East policy, said one of the challenges for Mr. Trump was calibrating his language with his actions. In effect, Mr. Gordon said, the president seemed to be trying to find a reasoned middle ground in Syria that belies his own tough talk.

“You can make a case that we are trying to thread a needle that’s tough to thread, but the needle is to do enough to deter the regime from using chemical weapons but not so much that sucks us into the Syrian civil war and gets us into conflict with Iran and Russia,” he said.

Rather than pay attention to Mr. Trump’s words, Mr. Gordon said the strategy was better articulated by Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain and Mr. Mattis, who described the strike as an effort to stop Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons but noted that it was not intended to achieve broader goals.

“What May and Mattis said could be considered a legitimate strategy,” Mr. Gordon said. “The risk is with this president and this administration, is he going to be disciplined enough and restrained enough to thread that needle? Those are not his fortes.”

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Seven Takeaways From the Airstrikes on Syria


Inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were expected to arrive in Douma, Syria, on Saturday to investigate the attack last weekend.

Mr. Mattis was working to slow the move toward a military response, concerned that a missile strike could spark a wider conflict between Russia, Iran and the West.

And Mr. Trump sent mixed signals about timing. On Wednesday, he warned Russia on Twitter that missiles “will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ ” But the next day, he added: “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!”

At a news conference oon Saturday morning, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain said that the strikes had been “the right thing to do,” in part for the “operational security” of those carrying them out.

Assad absorbed another blow.

The airstrikes sent an unambiguous message to Mr. Assad, and it was not clear that it would change his thinking. He remained firmly in power thanks to the support of Russia and Iran.

Mr. Assad has essentially been under siege since the Syrian civil war began more than seven years ago. In that time, he has dealt with the war, airstrikes, sanctions, Islamic State militants, a variety of rebel groups and a crumbling economy.

As Syrian state news media reported that many of the missiles had been intercepted, the Syrian presidency’s Twitter account posted a video that appeared to show Mr. Assad showing up for just another day at the office.

The events depicted could not be independently verified.

Capitol Hill remained divided.

The reaction in Washington was divided along party lines, with the strikes bringing praise from Republicans and criticism from Democrats.

“President Trump is right to assert that the Assad regime’s evil acts cannot go unanswered,” Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House Republican majority whip, wrote in a statement.

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, said in a statement: “The Butcher of Damascus learned two lessons tonight the hard way: Weapons of mass destruction won’t create a military advantage once the United States is done with you and Russia cannot protect its clients from the United States.”

Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, complained that Mr. Trump had not sought permission from Congress. Proceeding with the strikes, he said, was “illegal and — absent a broader strategy — it’s reckless.”

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Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi during a briefing at the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow on Saturday.

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Pavel Golovkin/Associated Press

Russia responded with angry rhetoric, so far.

Russia has called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council, and offered some harsh warnings before the attack. But the speed and the tone of the Russian reaction on Saturday, stressing that the attack had not resulted in a direct confrontation and was rather limited, suggested almost relief on the part of the Kremlin.

According to Russian state news media, President Vladimir V. Putin condemned the missile strikes as an “act of aggression against a sovereign state” and against the United Nations Charter.

Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of staff for the armed forces, had warned that Russia would “take retaliatory measures,” but he included an important caveat: Russia would attack missiles and the platforms from which they were launched only in the event that Russian military personnel were placed in danger.

In another sign of the lack of urgency, the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian Parliament, stated that it would discuss the airstrikes “next week.”

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Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, said at a news conference at Downing Street in London on Saturday that the strike against Syrian targets had been “the right thing to do.”

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Pool photo by Simon Dawson

Britain’s leader avoided a conflict at home.

Mrs. May has said she believed there was a need to send a strong message about the use of chemical weapons, but she also had compelling diplomatic and political reasons to support the United States — and to carry out the strikes as soon as possible.

One imperative was the desire to reciprocate the support London has received from the United States in the dispute with Russia over the poisoning of a former spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia S. Skripal, on British soil.

On Saturday, Mrs. May made an explicit connection between the airstrikes in Syria and the poisoning of the Skripals, saying: “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized, in the streets of the U.K. or elsewhere.”

Britain also wants to prove its use as an ally to Mr. Trump at a time when its international influence is under question because of its withdrawal from the European Union, and when it hopes to strengthen trade ties with the United States.

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France’s foreign affairs minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, right, and the defense minister, Florence Parly, after an emergency meeting with President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday. Mr. Macron had made clear early in his presidency that the use of chemical weapons was a red line.

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Pool photo by Michel Euler

France saw a chance to act after a red line was crossed.

President Emmanuel Macron had prepared his nation for this moment: He had discussed the possibility of airstrikes and made clear early in his presidency that the use of chemical weapons was a red line.

While pressing for a military response to the use of chemical weapons, Mr. Macron has also said he wants to work on a peace deal for the region, creating a dual-pronged strategy that has support in France. Mr. Macron has cultivated a closer relationship with Mr. Trump than other Western leaders, but he has also reached out to Mr. Putin.

He will visit both presidents in the coming weeks: Mr. Trump at the end of April and Mr. Putin in May.

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In a Syrian Town, People Started Shouting: ‘Chemicals! Chemicals!’


Syria, Russia and Iran have denied the use of chemical weapons, accusing the rebels and rescue workers of concocting the story to gain sympathy as their defeat loomed.

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President Trump with Vice President Mike Pence and his new national security adviser, John R. Bolton, on Monday. Mr. Trump has vowed to punish not only Syria for the attack, but also its Russian and Iranian allies.

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Tom Brenner/The New York Times

International investigators have yet to visit the site to determine whether chemicals were used, but the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is sending a team. The State Department said that the symptoms reported were “consistent with an asphyxiation agent and of a nerve agent of some type.”

While much about the attack remains unclear, a New York Times review of more than 20 videos of its aftermath, an examination of flight records compiled by citizen observers, and interviews with a dozen residents, medics and rescue workers suggest that during a military push to break the will of Douma’s rebels, pro-government forces dropped charges bearing some kind of chemical compound that suffocated at least 43 people and left many more struggling to breathe.

“You imagine yourself on Judgment Day, and there is death all around you,” said Mr. Hanash, the student. “It was a scene that you don’t want anyone to have to see: old men, women and children screaming and suffering.”

Regardless of the munitions used, the attack worked. Hours later, as rescuers lined up bodies in the street, the rebels agreed to hand over the town and be bused with their families to another rebel-held area.

Douma, a modest town northwest of Damascus that had been controlled by the opposition since the early years of the uprising, had been the last rebel-held town in an area known as Eastern Ghouta.

On Friday, negotiations with the rebels collapsed and the Syrian government began a new offensive against the town, heavily shelling it while jets and helicopters bombed it from above, residents said.

As roofs caved in and walls collapsed, people sheltered on the ground floors of their buildings or in basements intended for storage. To avoid going outside, they cooked and baked bread underground, venturing out during lulls to fetch water for cooking and bathing, said Mahmoud Bweidany, 19, who had spent much of the past few months crowded in a two-room basement with 10 other people.

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A photo released by Syria’s official news agency showed President Bashar al-Assad greeting a delegation of Muslim clerics on Wednesday in Damascus.

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SANA, via Associated Press

“You just sit and think about the strikes,” he said. “Are they close or far? Was that a bomb or a missile?”

After a strike on Saturday afternoon, 15 people started choking, according to Mahmoud Adam of the Syrian Civil Defense, a volunteer aid group also known as the White Helmets. Witnesses said it smelled like chlorine, which has been used repeatedly as a weapon in this war.

Later that night, Mr. Hanash heard the helicopters and the whistling that he said was caused by barrel bombs carrying some sort of chemical.

“After the barrels came down, we started smelling a smell,” he said. He described it as “sweet.”

But people hiding in a nearby basement started screaming, and rescuers later carried out six people who had passed out, he said. He did not know what had happened to them.

Another canister landed on a bed on the upper floor of a damaged building and did not explode, according to a video shot by an activist who found it.

A third canister was found on the roof of a crowded, four-story apartment building near the city center, according to a video of the canister and an activist who visited the building the next day.

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A bus carrying rebels and their families from Douma on Monday.

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Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

Rescue workers and the activist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals, found dozens of men, women and children lying lifeless on the floor below. In videos of the scene, the dead bore no visible signs of trauma but some had white foam coming from their mouths and nostrils. Some appeared to have burned corneas.

2018 04 08 توثيق وداع الشهداء جراء قصف عصابات الأسد دوما بالبراميل التي تحوي الغازات السامة Video by YASER ALDOUMANI2

The activist said it appeared that when the smell entered the basement, some people had tried to go upstairs to get fresh air, unknowingly getting closer to the source.

A number of residents recalled hearing the sounds of helicopters near the time of the attack. A network of citizen observers that tracks Syrian aircraft said that two Mil Mi-8 helicopters, which they said belonged to the Syrian government, had been seen flying from the Dumayr air base toward Douma near the time of the attack.

After the strikes, a wave of victims arrived at a local clinic, according to a medical student who was working there at the time and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals from the Syrian government.

Exhausted and low on supplies, the medics doused the patients with water and tried to treat the rest with their limited respirators and medicine, he said. One patient had muscle spasms and struggled to breathe before passing out, coughing up blood and dying, he said.

“Most of the serious cases died in the hospital,” he said.

The Syrian Civil Defense compiled the names of 35 people it said had died in the attack, and said that eight more bodies were unidentified.

The next morning was quiet. When residents emerged from their homes and shelters, they learned that the rebels had surrendered. The government would retake control of Douma for the first time in more than five years, and the rebels and tens of thousands of residents would be bused to a rebel-held area in northern Syria.

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A video image provided by the Syrian Civil Defense, an aid group, showing a rescue worker carrying a child after the suspected chemical attack in Douma last weekend.

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Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, via Associated Press

“They never announced anything, but it was clear that there was a deal because the shelling stopped and we came out and saw that the whole town was destroyed,” Mr. Bweidany said.

On Sunday, rescuers removed the bodies from the building where dozens of people had died and laid them out in the street, according to a video. After dousing them with water, they loaded them into a truck to be buried. It was unclear what happened to the rest of the bodies, but residents said their families had either buried them or left them behind.

On Monday, officers from the Russian military police entered Douma and visited the same building the rescuers had pulled the bodies from, according to videos of the visit.

دخول شرطة عسكرية روسية لمعاينة مكان مجزرة الكيماوي بمدينة دوما بريف دمشق Video by شادي العبد الله

In a statement, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said the visit had “refuted all reports of chemical weapons use in the city.”

It called the accusations and the photos and videos posted online “fake” and an effort to disrupt the agreement that had ended the fighting.

The United States has not said when it would carry out its response.

Douma’s residents were less concerned about Mr. Trump’s response than with a basic question: whether to remain in Douma and live under the government that had bombed them, or relocate to a part of Syria many had never visited.

Few expected an American intervention to affect their lives.

Mr. Bweidany planned to leave Douma because he feared getting arrested by the government or drafted into its military.

“We here as civilians have lost all faith in the things people say,” he said. “I see a lot of talk but I don’t see any action.”

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