by News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
Syrian forces vacate potential targets, Russia pulls vessels from Port of Tartus.
Syrian leader Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir
Putin in Moscow, January 2016Photo: Reuters
With a mix of fear and defiance, Syria braced Wednesday for a possible U.S. strike in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed dozens over the weekend.
U.S. President Donald Trump twitter Wednesday that Syria and its ally Russia should "prepare themselves" missiles "will be coming."
The Syrian Foreign Ministry denounced Trump's threat to attack the country as "reckless," saying such belligerent rhetoric was "a danger to international peace and security."
The ministry said that Washington's allegations were "unsubstantiated fabrications and lies" and that the alleged chemical attack is being used as a pretext to target Syria.
"We are not surprised by this reckless escalation from a regime like the one in the United States, which has and continues to sponsor terrorism in Syria," the ministry said, adding that statements from Washington lack "wisdom and logic" and endanger international peace and security.
The statement was the latest in a war of words raging between Washington and Moscow since Saturday's chemical attack on the rebel-held town Douma, just outside Damascus, which killed more than 40 people.
The World Health Organization said about 500 patients showed signs of exposure to toxic chemicals following the Douma attack.
Syria denies such an attack happened.
Trump's threat of retaliatory military action prompted a slew of Russian comments warning that U.S. strikes could trigger a direct military clash between them.
France said it would consider a response with the United States and Britain. Saudi Arabia said it would support a military operation in Syria.
Syrian Government forces vacated strategic potential targets, including air bases around the country in apparent preparation for incoming strikes.
Defense analysts said Syria's attempt to shelter aircraft, perhaps by locating them alongside Russian military hardware that Washington might be reluctant to strike, could limit the damage that the United States and its allies might be able to inflict on Syrian President Bashar Assad's military.
U.S. military officials were frustrated by Trump's decision to confirm – on social media – the nature of the weapons that would be used in a potential strike on Syria.
"By telegraphing our punch so early, you give the Syrians the opportunity to harden themselves as a target and you give them the opportunity to have more time to think through what our potential response might be," said Christine Wormuth, a former undersecretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration.
The Russian military said on Wednesday it had observed movements of U.S. Navy forces in the Persian Gulf. Any U.S. strike would almost certainly involve the navy, given the risk to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defenses. A U.S. guided-missile destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, is in the Mediterranean, and other naval assets could be used in an attack.
Wormuth said the early telegraphing of U.S. military actions also allowed Syria, Russia and Iran to think about "how they in return might try to fight back against it."
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was cautious in his public remarks about Syria on Wednesday, disclosing little about the decision-making process on the issue and saying only that the U.S. was still studying the relevant intelligence.
Social media pages were flush with defiant comments, mostly from government supporters, some lamenting Syria's perpetual conflict while others taunted Trump to go through with his threats.
"They [the U.S.] have threatened us a thousand times. Let them go through with it or shut up," said a participant in an online poll asking if Syrians were afraid of a U.S. attack.
"We have become accustomed to such threats that aim to frighten the Syrian people," said Marwan Ghata, 66, an engineer. "We will not leave our houses and our army is ready to retaliate."
Russia has threatened to retaliate against any U.S. strike in Syria, but satellite images showed Wednesday it has moved almost all of its warships out the Port of Tartus in Syria ahead of a potential attack.
The images, taken by Israeli satellite company ImageSat International shows what ImageSat described as Russia's regular deployment of naval vessels in Tartus, including 11 warships, cargo vessels and submarines.
A second image shows most of those vessels gone on Wednesday, with only one Kilo-class submarine remaining in the Syrian port. The company maintained that the other Russian vessels have been "deployed at sea due to possible near-future strikes."
The Port of Tartus is the main military port in Syria and has been used by Russia since the 1970s.
News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
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