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Syria condems 'aggression' as US air base attack kills six

In this image provided by the US Navy, the guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) launches a tomahawk land attack missile in the Mediterranean Sea, Friday, April 7, 2017 
Zeina Karam and Sarah El Deeb

The United States has launched dozens of cruise missiles into central Syria, striking an Assad government-controlled air base from where America says the Syrian military initiated a deadly chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians this week.

The Syrian army said six people died in the attack.

Syrian state TV called the attack, announced by US president Donald Trump, an "aggression" that led to "losses" and Talal Barazi, the governor of Syria's Homs province, said later that the attack killed some Syrians.

Russia has suspended a deal with the US to prevent mid-air collisions over Syria in response to the missile strike..

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the attack "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law".

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Moscow is suspending the memorandum with the US to prevent incidents and ensure flight safety.

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.

Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US attack, saying he "fully supports" Mr Trump's decision.

Mr Netanyahu said "in both word and action" Mr Trump "sent a strong and clear message" that "the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated".

Russia's Foreign Ministry said it was preparing a statement on the US strike.

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.

Earlier, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped Mr Trump would take military action, adding that Turkey would be prepared to do "whatever falls on us" to support possible military action.

US officials had said they hoped for a vote late on Thursday on a UN 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 co-ordinator Stephen Hickey tweeted that the vote would not take place until later.

The chemical attack happened in Syria's Idlib province about 60 miles from the Turkish border and the Turkish government - a close ally of Syria's rebels - set up a decontamination centre at a border crossing in Hatay province, where the victims were treated initially.

Victims showed signs of nerve gas exposure, including suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils and involuntary defecation, the World Health Organisation and Doctors Without Borders said.

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