Strike reduces research centre to rubble

DAMASCUS – Damascus residents were woken before dawn on Saturday by a series of explosions resounding across the city, very loud even for people used to the sound of heavy bombardment.

Ten hours after the missiles hit, smoke was still rising from the remains of a research facility in Damascus’s Barzeh district that Western countries say was part of a covert Syrian government chemical weapons program.

The U, Britain and France attacked sites across Syria in response to a suspected poison gas attack a week ago, but the Syrian government, backed by Russia, denies using — or possessing — any such weapons.

The blasts left the Syrian Scientific Research Centre compound, standing hard against the steep, dry hills that hem in northeastern Damascus, little more than a ruin.

The centre is not far from eastern Ghouta, the area of towns and farmland that was the biggest stronghold of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad. The last group of them surrendered hours after the suspected chemical weapons attack that prompted Saturday’s air strikes, at the end of a government offensive on the region that had lasted seven weeks.

Standing near the rubble, Saeid Saeid, head of the centre’s polymers department, said the buildings had been used to research and make medicine components that could not be imported, including ones for cancer treatment and anti-venom.

US Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairperson of the joint chiefs of staff, said in Washington that it had been a centre for research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological weapons.

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