US missile strikes on a Syrian air base have reportedly killed nine civilians – including four children – as Donald Trump launched the first direct American attack on Bashar Assad’s regime.
Britain has described the overnight assault as an “appropriate response” to this week’s “barbaric” chemical attack in Syria, while Russia warned the act of “aggression” will damage its relations with America.
Four children are reported to be among nine civilians killed in the “targeted assault” on the air base, from where Trump said a devastating nerve agent strike was launched earlier this week. Six servicemen – none of them Russian – are believed to have also been killed.
The UK Government has offered its full support to the surprise barrage of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, which were launched from US ships in the Mediterrane
an and struck the Shayrat air base in central Syria in the early hours of Friday.
Russia called the attack “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman saying he believed the US had carried out the strikes under a “far-fetched pretext”.
Mr Trump was reacting to the attack on Tuesday that killed at least 72 people, including 20 children, which he said was launched by Syrian president Assad.
On Friday morning, a No 10 spokeswoman said: “The UK Government fully supports the US action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks.”
Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, confirmed Britain had been given notice of the strikes, but was not asked to get involved . He added: “I hope Russia will learn from what happened last night and use its influence over Assad.”
Speaking from Florida, Mr Trump announced his strike in an emotional message to the public in which he evoked images of children dying.
US Tomahawk missiles targeted airstrips, hangars, control towers and ammunition areas in Sharyat.
Syrian state TV reported missile attacks on a number of military targets, calling them an act of “aggression”. Russia said only 23 US rockets hit their target and it is not clear where the 36 others landed.
The Syrian army said the strikes led to “big material losses”, but Russia said they had “extremely low” military effectiveness and only destroyed six planes in repair hangers.
Major Jamil al-Saleh, a Syrian opposition commander whose district has been hit by chemical weapons, welcomed the US attack and hopes it will be a “turning point” in the six-year civil war.
The Syrian Coalition opposition group also backed the move, with senior official Ahmad Ramadan urging Mr Trump to “hit the snake’s head”.
However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed there is no change to America’s policy on Syria, suggesting the missile strikes will not necessarily lead to further involvement in the civil war.
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