The United States on Friday fired dozens of cruise missiles at a government-controlled airbase in Syria, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town that killed scores of civilians.
The Pentagon said 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean at the Shayrat airfield, targeting the base from where US officials believe Tuesday’s attack in Khan Sheikhoun had been launched.
At least six people were killed in the early morning strike, according to the Syrian army, which denounced the US “aggression” as a violation of international law.
In a statement carried by the state-run SANA news agency and read on television, the military said the US strikes were done on a “pretext” of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, without the full facts being disclosed.
It also said the attack, which caused extensive damage to the base, made the US a partner of “terrorist groups”.
It was the first direct military action the US has taken against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the the country’s long-running conflict, now in its seventh year.
“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council,” US President Donald Trump said in a televised statement after the strike.
Syria’s opposition National Coalition hailed the US attack, saying it puts an end to an age of “impunity” and should be just the beginning of further military action against Assad’s forces.
Russia, a key military ally of the Assad government, strongly condemned the strikes, saying Washington’s action would “inflict major damage on US-Russia ties”, according to Russian news agencies.
The Pentagon said that Russia had been notified ahead of the operation – but US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Washington had “sought no approval from Moscow”.
At least 86 people, including 27 children, were killed after a suspected poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The attack drew widespread international condemnation and public revulsion, prompting the United Nations to pledge it would investigate it as a possible war crime.