Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has welcomed the United States’ decision to launch dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian government air base from where America says the Assad regime initiated a deadly chemical attack.
Netanyahu said “in both word and action” Donald Trump “sent a strong and clear message” that “the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated”.
Syrian state TV called the attack, announced by Trump, an “aggression”.
About 60 US Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base south east of Homs – a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria.
The US missiles struck at 3.45am on Friday, Syria time, and targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, American officials said.
They were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, in retaliation for Tuesday’s deadly chemical attack that officials said used chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin.
The Syrian Coalition opposition group welcomed the US attack, saying it put an end to an age of “impunity” and should be just the beginning.
Major Jamil al-Saleh commander of US-backed opposition rebel group the Alezzah Army, whose district was among those hit by chemical weapons, said he hoped the American assault would be a “turning point” in the six-year war.
Earlier, Alexei Pushkov, head of information policy commission in the upper house of the Russian parliament, said on Twitter that if Mr Trump launched a military action in Syria it would put him in “the same league with Bush and Obama”.
Russian deputy envoy to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, said Russia had warned the US to “think about what military actions have led to in Iraq, Libya and other countries”, according to Interfax news agency.
Australia’s prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government “strongly supports the swift and just response of the United States”.
“This was a calibrated, proportionate and targeted response,” he said.
“It sends a strong message to the Assad regime and … has been struck at the very airfield from which the chemical attack was delivered.
“But we are not at war with the Assad regime and the United States have made it clear that they are not seeking to overthrow the Assad regime,” he added.
The bombing is Mr Trump’s most dramatic military order since taking office.
The Obama administration threatened attacking Assad’s forces for previous chemical weapons attacks, but never followed through.
Mr Trump called on “all civilised nations” to join the US in seeking an end to the carnage in Syria.
President Bashar Assad’s government had been under mounting international pressure after the chemical attack in northern Syria, with even key ally Russia saying its support is not unconditional.
Turkey, meanwhile, 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 had warned against apportioning blame until an investigation has been carried out.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that “unconditional support is not possible in this current world”.
But he added: “It is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow. This is totally wrong.”
Russia has provided military support for the Syrian government since September 2015, turning the balance of power in Assad’s favour.
Moscow has used its veto power at the United Nations Security Council on several occasions since the civil war began six years ago to prevent sanctions against Damascus.
Syria maintains it did not use chemical weapons, blaming opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals.
Russia’s Defence Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian air strike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun.
But Mr Trump said the chemical attack crossed “many, many lines” and put the blame squarely on Assad’s forces.