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'Several dead' in US strikes on Syrian base in response to suspected gas attack

© Ford Williams / US Navy / AFP | In this image released by the US Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations while in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-04-07

The Syrian army said a US missile attack on one of its airbases killed six people and caused extensive damage, adding it would respond by continuing its campaign to “crush terrorism” and restore peace and security to all of Syria.

A statement from the army command described the attack on Friday as an act of “blatant aggression”, saying it had made the United States “a partner” of the Islamic State group, the ex-Nusra Front and other "terrorist organisations".

The United States on Friday fired dozens of cruise missiles at an airbase from which it said a deadly chemical weapons attack was launched this week, in an escalation of the US military role in Syria that directly raised tension with Russia.

In a brief televised address delivered hours after the UN Security Council failed to agree on a probe into the apparent chemical attack, Trump confirmed the first American targeted strike against Assad's regime.

Declaring it in America's "vital national security interest" to prevent the spread of deadly chemical weapons, Trump accused Assad of a "very barbaric attack" in which "even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered."

"Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end this slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types," Trump said.

Trump's visceral reaction to the suspected sarin attack prompted a swift and massive response, with the US firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat Airfield at 8:40 pm Eastern Time (0040 GMT), according to officials.

"The US showed their stick, the stick that was the missing element of the Obama strategy"

The missiles were fired from the USS Porter and the USS Ross, which belong to the US Navy's Sixth Fleet and are located in the eastern Mediterranean.

The strike targeted radars, aircraft, air defense systems and other logistical components at the military base south of Homs in central Syria, from where Washington believes Tuesday's deadly strike was launched.

Syrian state television called the US strike "an act of aggression," quoting a military source saying there had been unspecified losses. Six soldiers were killed in the strike and the base was almost completely destroyed, said the Syrian military.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was preparing a statement regarding the US strike. The head of the defence and security committee at the Russian upper house of parliament, Viktor Ozerov, said that the US attack could undermine efforts to fight terrorism. He called it an "act of aggression of the US against a UN nation," and said that Russia would call for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council.

Israel's prime minister welcomed the US strike saying he "fully supports" President Trump's decision. Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday in a statement that "In both word and action" Trump "sent a strong and clear message" that "the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated."

Limited aims

The swift US military action against the Assad regime marks a stunning development in Syria's brutal, six-year conflict and a sudden about-face for Trump.

The White House was quick to paint the decision as limited to deterring the use of chemical weapons, and not part of a broader military campaign to remove Assad by force.

"The intent was to deter the regime from doing this again, and it is certainly our hope that this has had that effect," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

"It will be the regime's choice if there's any more (strikes) and it will be based upon their conduct going forward."

But the strike will send ripples around the world, from Pyongyang to Tehran, as nations and leaders take the measure of the neophyte but often bellicose president.

Assad future 'uncertain'

The fast-moving events come just days after the Trump administration had signaled it was no longer seeking the Syrian leader's departure from power.

The Khan Sheikhun attack appears to have marked a turning point.

On Wednesday Trump decried the attack as an "affront to humanity." He seemed horrified by photographs showing dead children and victims suffering convulsions and foaming at the mouth.

"It crossed a lot of lines for me," Trump said, alluding to Barack Obama's failure to enforce his own "red line" on the use of chemical weapons in Syria four years ago.

In 2013, Trump had urged then-president Obama not to intervene against Assad.

In a startling about-turn, Tillerson called Thursday for "a political process that would lead to Assad leaving" and said his future role in the country was "uncertain."

The American strike came hours after Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem repeated the regime's denial that it conducted a chemical attack.

"The Syrian army has not, did not and will not use this kind of weapons -- not just against our own people, but even against the terrorists that attack our civilians with their mortar rounds," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

Date created : 2017-04-07

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