Vladimir Putin has today diverted a warship to protect the Syrian coast and vowed to bolster Bashar al-Assad’s missile defences against further US strikes as fears grew the crisis could topple into war between Russia and the West.
The Russian President has immediately sent his Admiral Grigorovich frigate – armed with cruise missiles and a self-defence system – from the Black Sea to dock in Syria later.
It will pass through the east Mediterranean waters where the USS Ross and USS Porter fired the 59 Tomahawk missiles that pounded Assad’s al-Shayrat military airfield near Homs in the early hours of Friday.
Putin today called it an ‘illegal act of aggression’ and also ripped up an agreement to avoid mid-air clashes between Russian and US fighter jets over Syria.
In the continuing fight back Russian or Syrian planes also bombed the town of Khan Sheikhoun, the scene of Tuesday’s horrific chemical gas attack where 80 died, witnesses in the rebel-held area claimed.
The US was also branded ‘a partner of ISIS’ by al-Assad’s spokesman, calling the missile strikes ‘reckless and irresponsible’ and accused Trump of ‘naively falling’ for a ‘false propaganda campaign’ about the Idlib Sarin massacre.
Today world leaders praised the US strikes and urged Putin to hold urgent talks with Trump to prevent the Syria crisis escalating into a wider world conflict.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, speaking alongside German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, said: ‘We do not want an escalation. We have to stop the hypocrisy. If Russia is acting in good faith it should stop and negotiate’.
Russian warship the Admiral Grigorovich (pictured on recent deployment) – armed with cruise missiles and a self-defence system – is docking in Syria today after it was immediately diverted from the Black Sea following Donald Trump’s airstrike on al-Shayrat military airfield near Homs, which killed six and destroyed nine Syrian jets
Route: It will pass through the east Mediterranean waters where the USS Ross and USS Porter fired the 59 Tomahawk missiles that pounded Assad’s al-Shayrat military airfield near Homs in the early hours of Friday
First picture: These damaged hangars, blackened by smoke, are at the entrance to the Syrian airfield bombarded by the US
Pictures show the aftermath of the US missile attack on the al-Shayrat airbase in Syria this morning with one of the hangars reduced to rubble
Footage showing burnt out shelters and hangars and a damaged runway was cheered by tearful Syrians hoping that Trump’s intervention would lead to Assad being overthrown
Pictures appeared to show damage to the Syrian airbase runway caused by a barrage of some 59 Tomahawk missiles overnight
‘We do not wish to raise the stakes, but to find a solution. You can not deal with reality (use of chemical weapons) by resorting to propaganda.’
Earlier, Trump, speaking from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida where he is hosting the Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng as part of a two day summit, said the US had to act after the Syrian dictator launched the ‘horrible chemical weapons attack’ on innocent civilians.
‘Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,’ he said. ‘It was a slow and brutal death for so many.’
Pentagon officials said that the airfield was being used to store chemical weapons and was a base for Syrian air forces – including the aircraft that conducted the chemical weapons attack.
Syria’s state agency SANA claimed that the missiles killed nine civilians, including four children, even though the bombarded the airbase in the middle of the night. There were reports nine Syrian jets were destroyed.
The Pentagon has released dramatic footage of its missiles being launched from USS Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, targeting the Syrian base.
Putin this morning denounced the strike as an ‘act of aggression against a UN member’ and suspended a deal to avoid mid-air clashes with American fighter jets over the war-torn country. The Kremlin’s propaganda machine clicked into hear claiming the strikes had ‘extremely low’ military effectiveness and that just 23 of 59 cruise missiles reached the air base, destroying six Syrian jets but leaving the runway intact.
Syrian Army officials called the US airstrike a act of ‘blatant aggression’, saying it had made America ‘a partner’ of ISIS, the ex-Nusra Front and other ‘terrorist organisations’.
The US used a special military-to-military hotline to warn Russia it was launching an airstrike on a Syrian air base about 30 minutes in advance – but the Trump administration did not ask Moscow for permission. It is likely Russia alerted the Syrians about the incoming strikes but this has not been confirmed.
Viktor Ozerov, head of the defense committee in the Russian Federation Council, told state news agency RIA that the US strikes ‘may undermine the efforts in the fight against terrorism in Syria.’
‘Russia will demand an urgent UN Security Council meeting after the US airstrike on Syrian aviation base. This is an act of aggression against a UN member.’
Russia’s foreign minister says no Russian servicemen have been hurt in the bombing raid. Its security council said it regretted the ‘harm’ done to relations between Washington and Moscow.
A Pentagon official told DailyMail.com that the president ‘is dead-set against letting Assad labor under the illusion that the Syrian army can murder innocent people with impunity.’
‘We’ve laid down a marker. No more chemical weapons attacks, period. There will be consequences. Our president is showing his American conscience, and if anyone provokes him they will regret it.’
The official said the Trump administration hopes Assad ‘will change his ways.’
The longtime Pentagon veteran said he was in the chain of command that led to Thursday night’s attacks, but couldn’t predict what might come next.
‘We’ve got a new president,’ he said. ‘And that means none of our adversaries knows how he will react to any given situation. That’s a huge advantage that Assad may not have considered.’
Despite repeated questions, neither Secretary of State Rex Tillerson nor National Security Adviser HR McMaster would confirm whether China’s Xi Jinping was informed of the strike ahead of time. However officials confirmed to AFP that Trump had informed Xi personally of the Syria strike before it occurred.
The strikes have won broad international support with officials saying that Canada and other allies were behind the move.
Britain backed the US missile strike, describing it as an ‘appropriate response’, as the government offered its full support to Trump’s targeted assault.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: ‘The UK Government fully supports the US action, which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime, and is intended to deter further attacks.’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said Syrian president Assad bore ‘sole responsibility’ for the US strike on a regime airbase.
In a joint statement on Friday, they said: ‘After the chemical weapons massacre of April 4 on Khan Sheikhun in northwestern Syria, a military installation of the Syrian regime was destroyed by a US air strike last night.
‘President Assad bears sole responsibility for this development.’
Hollande added that the US strike was what France had been calling for in the wake of another chemical attack in 2013.
Both he and Merkel said their countries would continue to work with UN partners in ‘efforts to hold President Assad responsible for his criminal acts.’
EU President Donald Tusk said the action demonstrated ‘needed resolve’ against chemical attacks. ‘US strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks. EU will work with the US to end brutality in Syria,’ Tusk said in a tweet.
Israel’s prime minister also welcomed the US attack saying he ‘fully supports’ President Trump’s decision.
Benjamin Netanyahu said ‘in both word and action’ Trump ‘sent a strong and clear message’ that ‘the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.’
It is not yet clear what China’s response has been to Trump’s decision to brazenly announce the strike on Syria while the president was his guest. China has backed Syrian-ally Russia’s attempts to protect Assad’s government and vetoed six resolutions on Syria.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today condemned the US cruise missile attack and has suggested it ‘risks escalating the war in Syria’.
The 67-year-old described the chemical attack on Tuesday as a ‘war crime’ which needs an ‘urgent independent UN investigation’.
Turkey called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s immediate ouster on Friday, voicing support for a U.S. missile strike on one of his air bases and saying the creation of safe zones to protect civilians was now more important than ever.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to Twitter on Friday to denounce the strikes, saying: ‘Not even two decades after 9/11, U.S. military fighting on same side as al-Qaeda & ISIS in Yemen & Syria. Time to stop hype and cover-ups.’
During his public address from his Mar-a-Lago estate, Trump said that it was ‘vital’ to the national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.
‘There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the chemical weapons convention, and ignored the urging of the UN security council,’ he said.
‘Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behaviour have all failed and failed very dramatically.
‘As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.
‘Tonight I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types.’
U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement that the administration plans to ‘learn the lessons of history’ and follow the strikes with a ‘new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria.’
‘The first measure in such a strategy must be to take Assad’s air force – which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people – completely out of the fight,’ they said.
‘We must also bolster support for the vetted Syrian opposition and establish safe zones to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis. As we do, we can and must continue the campaign to achieve ISIS’s lasting defeat.’