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‘Cries from Syria’ Director Has Mixed Reaction to U.S. Missile Strikes

Variety logo Variety 4/8/2017 Ted Johnson
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Evgeny Afineevsky, director of HBO’s recent documentary “Cries from Syria,” said that the U.S. missile attacks on a Syrian airfield showed “to the world we will be standing against all injustice,” but he is concerned about whether the action achieved its purpose.

He pointed to the fact that the U.S. informed the Russians that a U.S. airstrike was imminent, and suspicion that the Russians then informed the Syrian government.

“Who knows if all of the chemical stuff was moved from the base? We don’t have this knowledge.”

“At the end of the day, there are still a lot of questions here,” he said.

The U.S. strike was in response to an aerial gas attack on Tuesday on the rebel held city of Khan Sheikhoun, killing dozens of people, including children. Humanitarian groups say as many as 100 people may have died.

President Trump cited the graphic images of the aftermath of the gas attack in a speech on Thursday, as he outlined his rationale for the U.S. missile strikes on the airbase. That is believed to be where Syrian planes took off to carry out the airstrike with chemical substances.

Afineevsky’s documentary, which will be shown again on HBO on April 12, traces the civil war in Syria from its origins, often through the eyes of children who have witnessed brutality and devastation in the country, and later the migration from the region in hopes of stability and shelter.

In one of the interviews featured in “Cries from Syria,” a former Army general who left Syria tells of how the regime of Bashar al-Assad was able to hide half of the regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons despite an agreement to destroy the stockpile. The documentary shows how the chemical weapons attacks have continued since the agreement was forged in 2013.

Afineevsky said that he would like to know details of how the Russians were informed of the pending missile strikes.

“For every military operation, the surprise is the key. Where is the surprise here?” he asked. He  said that friends in the country have reported that the airstrikes on civilian areas from Syrian and Russian forces have continued, and are even “more horrifying right now.”

He has been critical of Trump’s executive order banning Syrians from entering the United States, noting that what the refugees are doing is “trying to find shelter” from the bloodshed and carnage in their country. The executive order is on hold as it faces a court challenge.

While he said he didn’t want to defend Trump, he does give Trump and his administration credit for taking the action. The missile strikes, he said, “showed the world that we will be standing against all injustice. We showed to the world that no country would allow the use of chemical weapons against its own people.”

He wonders what happens next, and whether the United States will “continue to fight the Syrian situation until the removal of Assad.”

“The question is is this is just a warning to Assad, or if this is just the beginning of changes to the situation in the Middle East with the help of America,” he said.

Afineevsky also is concerned that there is a long-term strategy, and says what is needed is a coordination of intelligence and a coalition of other countries, NATO and the United Nations to come up with a plan — “not like we did it yesterday.”

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