DAMASCUS (Dispatches) -- Western powers claim their missile attacks struck at the heart of Syria's chemical weapons program but what they destroyed included a scientific research institution producing cancer drugs.
The Pentagon said three chemical weapons facilities, including a research and development center in Damascus' Barzeh district and two installations near Homs, were hit in the early hours of Saturday.
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.
Standing near the rubble, Saeid Saeid, head of the center’s polymers department, said that the buildings had been used to research and make medicine components that could not be imported, including ones for cancer treatment and anti-venom.
U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, claimed in Washington that it had been a center for research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological weapons.
Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie said that 76 missiles had been fired at the facility and "successfully destroyed three buildings in metropolitan Damascus, one of the most heavily defended aerospace areas in the world”.
The smell of fire and smoke wafted across the remains of five destroyed buildings during a media tour arranged by the government to show that the U.S. and its allies were lying.
Amid the rubble on the edge of the compound were the scattered remains of its contents: charred books, laboratory masks and gloves, files, tables, cardboard packets marked with the names of medicines, chairs and wind-blown sheets of paper, Reuters reported.
The institute in Barzeh specialized in producing specific drugs which are direly in short supply in the face of Western sanctions on Syria.
"Since the Syria crisis broke out, the country has been short of all kinds of medicines due to the sanctions from Western countries. Foreign companies stopped exporting high-quality medicines to Syria, especially anti-cancer medicines. So we have been conducting researches on anti-cancer medicines here, and three cancer drugs have been developed," he said.
Saeed noted that he could not have stayed at the research center after the strikes if it had contained chemical weapons, as claimed by the U.S. and its allies.
"If there were chemical weapons in the building, we would not be here. My colleagues and I came here at 05:00 this morning. If there were chemical weapons, we would need to wear masks and take other protective measures to be staying here," he said.
The fresh strikes by the US marked the second time that President Donald Trump has authorized attacks on Syria.
He ordered a missile strike against Shayrat Airbase in Syria’s Homs Province on April 7, 2017. He claimed back then that the air field had been the origin of a suspected sarin gas attack on the town of Khan Shaykhun in Syria’s Idlib Province on April 4, 2017.
Syria turned over its entire chemical stockpile under a deal negotiated by Russia and the United States back in 2013.
Washington, London and Paris said their aggression was in response to last week's alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb town of Douma, which they blamed on the Damascus government.