US air strikes in Syria: US military probing whether Russia participated in chemical weapons attack

Andrew Buncombe
Mr Trump called on all civilised nations to work to stop the bloodshed in Syria: White House

The US military is said to be investigating whether Russia took part in the chemical weapons attack that killed up to 100 Syrian civilians and sparked a barrage of missile strikes in response from the US.

As the US military sought to reestablish a back-channel communication with the Russians used to avoid accidents involving Russia and US airplanes in Syria, officials said an investigation was underway into whether Moscow had any role in last Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack, allegedly launched by Syrian forces. Mr Trump had called on “all civilised nations to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria".

The Associated Press said US military officials at the Pentagon said a drone belonging to either Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack in Idlib province. Both Russia and Syria have rejected involvement in any such incident.

Russia said it was shutting down the so-called deconfliction channel after the missile strikes on Moscow’s regional ally. Vladimir Putin said Thursday’s nights strikes involving 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles, broke international law and threatened to damage US-Russia relations. The US had given Russian forces in the area a warning of up to one hour that a strike was imminent.

At the UN, Russia’s deputy envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, told an emergency meeting of the security council, that American “aggression” was strengthening groups such as Isis.

The White House claimed the US strikes at the Al Shayrat airfield believed to have been used to launch the chemical weapons attack that left up to 100 people dead, sent a strong signal to the world. However, it declined to say whether Mr Trump would approve additional strikes or actions against the Assad government.

“I think that the president's actions were very decisive last night and were clear about what he thinks needs to get done,” said White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

“First and foremost, the president believes the Syrian government, the Assad regime, should at the minimum agree to abide by the agreements they've made not to use chemical weapons. I think that should be a minimum standard set around the world.”

The president approved the strike while in Florida for a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He did not respond to shouted questions about the assault from reporters as he opened meetings with Mr Xi on Friday.

The strikes, launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter which were located in the eastern Mediterranean, hit Shayrat at around 8.45pm Eastern Standard Time, according to US officials.

Syria said that up to ten people were killed in the strikes, which hit an air strip, Syrian planes and fuel dumps.

The missiles also targeted hangars, a control tower and ammunition areas.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office says the action was “an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks”. France, Italy and Israel also welcomed the strikes.

In Washington, Republican leaders applauded Mr Trump’s actions, despite the president launching the strike without congressional authorisation. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell called Trump’s decision “entirely correct”.

“I think the president had the authority to do what he did, and I’m glad he did it,” he said.

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