Syrian warplanes took off from the air base hit by US cruise missiles yesterday to carry out bombing raids on rebel-held areas, in a defiant show of strength.
Just hours after the al-Shayrat airfield was bombed with 59 US Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from warships in the Mediterranean, aircraft struck targets in the eastern Homs countryside, according to a monitoring group.
The airstrikes were carried out on Khan Sheikhoun - the same town Bashar al-Assad’s regime is accused of attacking with chemicals - and seven other towns around eastern Homs, some of which controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
The strikes would send a message to President Bashar a-Trump, who had ordered the blistering attack on the base in response to
Observers had reported the base had been badly destroyed by the 1,000lb warheads and that several planes and a runway had been put out of service. However it is thought that an advance warning given by the US to Russia allowed Syria enough time to remove many of its aircraft before the raid.
"Although the strike will further weaken the overall air defense and ground attack capabilities of the (Syrian air force), it will not significantly diminish the ability of the Assad regime to conduct further chemical weapons attacks," wrote analyst Reed Foster of the defense and intelligence publication Jane's.
Col. Hassan Hamade, a Syrian pilot who defected in June 2012 when he landed his MiG-21 in Jordan, agreed.
"The bombardment of Shayrat will not have a major effect on military operations of the regime," said Mr Hamade, speaking to The Associated Press. He said if only the tarmac was destroyed it can be fixed within hours, but if the communications system and the control tower were heavily damaged it will take weeks if not months.
Syrian government officials said the base has played an instrumental role in the fight against the Islamic State group, which until recently controlled the historic town of Palmyra in Homs province.
"This very airport that was attacked by the United States has been fighting against terrorists for the last six years," Buthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Mr Assad, said.
Shayrat is the second-largest base used by Syrian troops, superseded only by Hmeimim base operated by the Russian military in the coastal province of Latakia.
Reports in Arabiya published on Saturday suggested the regime had begun moving its assets to Hmeimim, where they would be better protected.
President Assad also has use of 20 other air bases and is expected, the country's third-most active, Saqqal air base, which is also located in central Syria, will fill the vacuum created by the destruction at Shayrat.
The US last night warned Russia that it was prepared to take further steps in Syria after a day of mounting tension between Moscow and Washington.
"The United States took a very measured step last night," Nikki Haley, the US ambassador, told the UN Security Council. "We are prepared to do more, but we hope it will not be necessary."
Te US president, announced the attack from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping, after at least 86 people including 33 children were killed in a nerve-gas attack in rebel-held Idlib province earlier this week.
"Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack," he said, adding: "No child of God should ever suffer such horror."
The US strikes provoked fury in Moscow, which diverted a warship to the Mediterranean to protect the Syrian coast and vowed to bolster Bashar al-Assad's defences against further US missile strikes.
Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, said the attacks had fatally undermined Moscow’s initial trust in the new US administration and brought the countries to the “the verge of a military clash.”
Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said President Trump’s decision to directly target the Syrian regime inflicted further "considerable damage" to ties between Moscow and Washington.
"This step by Washington inflicts considerable damage to US-Russia relations, which are already in a lamentable state,” he said.