The US-led strikes against Syrian chemical weapons facilities prompted defiant celebrations in Damascus as it became clear that the limited attack posed no threat to President Bashar al-Assad's hold on power and would likely have no impact on the trajectory of the Syrian war.
Fears of a wider escalation faded after it emerged that the locations targeted by the United States, Britain and France had been confined to three sites associated with the Syrian chemical weapons programme, had caused no serious casualties and had probably not destroyed Syria's capacity to develop and deploy banned chemical substances.
There were expressions of anger from Syria's allies, with Russia labelling the attack an "act of aggression," Iran calling it "a war crime" and Syria describing it as "barbarous." US President Trump called the attacks an "enormous success," tweeting that they represented a "Mission Accomplished." But on the streets of Damascus, there was jubilation. Residents gathered in central squares and danced to patriotic songs. "The honourable cannot be humiliated," said a tweet by Assad's office shortly after the attack. It tweeted a video of him walking nonchalantly to work.
Though the strikes appeared to have satisfied the conflicting agendas of the world powers competing for influence in Syria, they won't make any difference to the war - which Assad is steadily winning, said Amr al-Azm, a professor of history at Shawnee University. "This was more about the Western allies making sure their red lines were addressed rather than trying to seriously damage the Assad regime, prevent the further killing of civilians or reduce the capacity of the Assad regime to keep fighting."
It was unclear even whether there would be a long-term impact on Syria's capacity to develop and use chemical weapons. Trump had telegraphed for days the likely response of the US to the alleged chemical attack that killed civilians in Douma, giving the Syrian authorities and their Iranian and Russian allies time to vacate the facilities that were targeted - and perhaps also to remove vital equipment and stores.
Captain Adulsalam Abdulrazek, a former officer in Syria's chemical programme, said the strikes probably hit "parts of, but not the heart" of the operation. He said they were unlikely to curb Assad's ability to produce such weapons or launch new attacks.
This was the second strike against Syria in a little over a year, in response to the second alleged use by the Government of a poison gas against its citizens. Last April, the US bombed the Shayrat air base in Homs in retaliation for a sarin gas attack that killed 70 people in Khan Sheikhoun.
These latest strikes went further, targeting production and research facilities as well as command centres from which attacks are launched. The Pentagon said the locations hit were a scientific research centre in the Barzeh suburb of Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and a command post, also near Homs.
But although Defence Department spokeswoman Dana White said the strikes had "set the Syrian chemical weapons programme back for years," Pentagon officials acknowledged that a "residual" capacity remained. White said the attack "does not represent a change in US policy, nor an attempt to depose the Syrian regime."
A senior opposition figure, Nasr Hariri, said the attacks were welcome but only reinforced the message that while it is not okay to use chemical weapons, the regime can continue to "use explosive barrels and cluster bombs" with impunity.
In Douma, the Syrian Army has declared the battered town "fully liberated" after the last group of rebels left. It effectively ends a nearly seven-year rebellion near Damascus and marks Assad's most significant victory since Aleppo in late 2016. The Syrian military will focus on remaining rebel-held territory, in Idlib province.
"Will this deter Assad from using chemical weapons again? Possibly, not least because he's essentially won the war anyway," wrote Faysal Itani of the Atlantic Council. "Will it change anything else? For better or worse, no."
- Washington Post, AP