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Syria condemns deadly US missile strike on air base as Russia pledges help

Syria has condemned a US missile strike on one of its air bases that left at least seven people dead.

The office of Syria's president called the strike "reckless" and "irresponsible".

The statement said the strikes were "short-sighted" and reflect a continuation of policy, regardless of which administration, that is based on targeting and "subjugating people".

State TV also said the strikes on the Shayrat air base were an "aggression" but the Syrian opposition welcomed the military action against President Bashar Assad after a chemical attack earlier this week killed over 80.

The US strike followed Tuesday's gruesome chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, where more than 80 people were killed.

Initial reports said about 60 US Tomahawk missiles hit the base south-east of Homs, a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria.

However, Russian defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov claimed that "the combat efficiency of the US strike was very low", adding that only 23 of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles reached the base.

He said it destroyed six MiG-23 fighter jets of the Syrian air force which were under repair, but did not damage other Syrian warplanes at the base. He added that the base's runway was left undamaged.

Major General Konashenkov also said the Russian military will help Syria beef up its air defences following the US strike.

He said that a "complex of measures" to strengthen Syrian air defences will be done shortly to help "protect the most sensitive Syrian infrastructure facilities".

The missiles hit early on Friday morning and targeted the base's airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, US officials said.

They were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, in retaliation for Tuesday's deadly chemical attack, which officials said used chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin.

Announcing the strike, US President Donald Trump said that Assad "choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children".

"Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.

"Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

"It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons."

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

Syria's state TV showed footage of the missile strike, as a fast sequence of orange flashes lit the dark sky.

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin believes the US strike is an "aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law".

"Washington's move deals a significant blow to the Russia-US relations, which are already in a deplorable shape," Mr Peskov said. He added that the attack creates a "serious obstacle" for creating an international coalition against terrorism.

Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said no Russian servicemen were hurt in the missile attack but insisted the strike violated international law.

A US-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.

A Syrian opposition group, the Syrian Coalition, welcomed the US attack, saying it puts an end to an age of "impunity" and should herald the start of a larger campaign against Damascus.

Major Jamil al-Saleh, a US-backed rebel commander based in the area where the US attack took place, said he hoped the strike would be a "turning point" in the six-year-old war, which has killed an estimated 400,000 people.

Assad's government had been under mounting international pressure after the chemical attack, with even key ally Russia saying its support is not unconditional.

Syria rejected the accusations, and blames opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals.

Russia has said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian air strike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal on the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun, and that blame should not be apportioned until a full investigation has been carried out.

Russia's intervention in Syria since September 2015 has turned the balance of power in Assad's favour, and Moscow has used its veto power at the Security Council on several occasions to prevent sanctions against Damascus.

Mr Trump had said the chemical attack crossed "many, many lines" and put the blame squarely on Assad's forces.

Speaking on Thursday on Air Force One, Mr Trump said the attack "shouldn't have happened, and it shouldn't be allowed to happen".

Later, Syrian opposition activists said warplanes had carried out their first air strike since the US missile attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air strike hit the northern edge of the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun where the chemical attack took place.

The Observatory and Turkey-based activist Ahmad al-Ahmad said Friday's air strike caused material damage but no casualties.

They said it was not immediately clear if the warplanes were Syrian or Russian.

Later, the US military rejected the Russian claims, saying 58 of the 59 missiles struck their intended targets.

A US official said the initial assessment suggested one of the missiles malfunctioned.

The official said the missiles hit multiple aircraft and hardened aircraft shelters and destroyed the fuel area.

In Geneva, the UN envoy for Syria said his office is in "crisis" mode after the strike, and that he would soon convene an urgent meeting of a Syrian ceasefire task force chaired by the United States and Russia.

Staffan de Mistura said Russia requested the meeting, which was "agreed upon" by the United States.

The envoy has been spearheading peace-making efforts for nearly three years, with little progress.

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