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Friday, April 7, 2017, 18:20

U.S. blasts Syria base with cruise missiles

By Associated Press

U.S. blasts Syria base with cruise missiles
In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, April 7, 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via AP)

WASHINGTON — Syria condemned a U.S. missile strike on one of its air bases that killed seven people early Friday as an "aggression," while the Syrian opposition welcomed military action against President Bashar Assad after a chemical attack earlier this week killed over 80.

The United States fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians, U.S. officials said. It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Donald Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president.

Syrian state TV called the attack an "aggression" that could lead to "losses."

READ MORE: Envoy: China for fair probe into Syria chemical attack

The U.S. military launched 59 Tomahawk missiles from two U.S. Navy destroyers on Thursday at a Syrian airfield and targets included aircraft and air defense systems, a Pentagon spokesman said. "These missiles targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage areas, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars," Pentagon Captain Jeff Davis spokesman told reporters.

The missiles hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria. The U.S. missiles hit at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning and targeted the base's airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, U.S. officials said.

The Syrian military said at least seven people were killed and nine wounded in the missile strike. A Syrian opposition monitor put the death toll at four, including a general and three soldiers.

The surprise strike marked a striking reversal for Trump, who warned as a candidate against the U.S. getting pulled into the Syrian civil war, now in its seventh year. But the president appeared moved by the photos of children killed in the chemical attack, calling it a "disgrace to humanity" that crossed "a lot of lines."

Trump confirmed he ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from which a deadly chemical attack was launched and added there could be no dispute that Syria had used banned chemical weapons.

59 U.S. Tomahawk missiles targeted an air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed dozens

The missiles were launched in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack that American officials believe Syrian government aircraft launched with a nerve agent, possibly sarin.

Turkey said samples from victims of Tuesday's attack, which killed more than 80 people in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, indicate they were exposed to sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent.

Syria rejected the accusations, and Moscow warned against apportioning blame until an investigation has been carried out.

"I stress, once again, that the Syrian Arab Army did not and will not use such weapons even against the terrorists who are targeting our people," Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Damascus.

A military official quoted on Syrian TV said an air base in central Syria was hit early Friday, causing material damage. Another statement, also attributed to an unnamed official, referred to "losses." The officials did not elaborate.

Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs province, where the targeted air base is located, told The Associated Press by phone that most of the strikes appeared to target the province in central Syria. He also said the strikes were meant to "support the terrorists on the ground." He told Al Arabiya TV that a fire raged for two hours in the base, until it was put out.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which support the Syrian opposition, welcomed the missile strike, with Riyadh calling it a "courageous decision" by Trump. Iran, another close ally of the Syrian government, condemned the strike, describing "unilateral action" as "dangerous."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi warned the strikes would "strengthen terrorists," further complicating the situation in Syria. Shiite Iran and majority Sunni Saudi Arabia have been locked in a power struggle over influence in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

A Syrian opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, welcomed the U.S. attack, saying it puts an end to an age of "impunity" and should be just the beginning.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin believes the U.S. strike is an "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law." Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Friday's statement carried by Russian news agencies that Putin believes the U.S. launched the strikes under a "far-fetched pretext."

Kremlin confirmed it received US advance warning about strike on Syrian base and that Putin would chair his Security Council to discuss US strikes on Syria.

Russia's Foreign Ministry later said it is suspending a memorandum with Washington — signed after Russia began an air campaign in support of Assad in September 2015 — under which the two countries exchange information about sorties over Syria.

A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria since 2014, while Russia's air force has been striking both extremist groups and Syrian rebels in order to aid Assad's forces.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the missile attack, saying that Trump "sent a strong and clear message" that "the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated."

Russia has provided military support for the Syrian government since September 2015, turning the balance of power in Assad's favor. Moscow has used its veto power at the Security Council on several occasions since the civil war began six years ago to prevent sanctions against Damascus.

The president did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday.

U.S. blasts Syria base with cruise missiles

"I think what happened in Syria is one of the truly egregious crimes and shouldn't have happened and it shouldn't be allowed to happen," Trump told reporters traveling on Air Force One to Florida, where he was holding a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The strike came as Trump was hosting Xi in meetings focused in part on another pressing U.S. security dilemma: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's nuclear program.

U.S. officials had said they hoped for a vote late Thursday night on a U.N. Security Council resolution that would condemn the chemical attack, but with council members still negotiating the text into the evening, the British Mission's political coordinator Stephen Hickey tweeted the vote wouldn't take place until later.

At the U.N., the United States, which currently holds the presidency of the Security Council, it drafted a resolution along with Britain and France that condemns the use of chemical weapons, particularly in the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, "in the strongest terms."

Russia objected to key provisions in the resolution and negotiations have been underway to try to bridge the differences.

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