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Syrians confirm ‘losses’ at air base following massive U.S. airstrike

An aerial view of the Shayrat airfield near Homs, Syria. (U.S. Department of Defense)

Syrian officials decried a missile strike by U.S. forces early Friday launched in retaliation for a poison gas attack, calling it an "aggression" that led to "losses."

A “military source” in Syria confirmed the missile strike, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. “One of our air bases in the central region at dawn today was hit with a missile strike by the United States of America, which led to losses.”

It said the attack followed a “propaganda campaign launched by a number of countries” after an apparent poison gas attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun, about 60 miles from the Syrian border in Idlib province, an opposition stronghold.

Talal Barazi, the governor of Syria’s Homs province, told Al Arabiya TV that a fire raged for two hours at the Shayrat air base, northeast of Damascus, before firefighters put it out.

About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles hit the base in the predawn hours near Homs, where aircraft leave to bomb targets in central Syria. The strike was in response to a deadly chemical attack Tuesday outside Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 70 people. Turkish experts found evidence civilians were targeted with chlorine and possibly sarin, a toxic nerve agent.

An opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, praised the U.S. missile strike, saying it puts an end to an age of "impunity" and should be just the beginning.

"We welcome these strikes," Najib Ghadbian, special representative to the U.S. and the U.N. for the Syrian National Coalition, told Al Jazeera.

"They are first good steps, but we would like them to be part of a bigger strategy that would put an end to the mass killing, an end to impunity, and eventually we hope that they will lead to a kind of a political transition in Syria."

Syrian human rights advocates said they hoped the attack signaled the start of a broader U.S. campaign against President Bashar Assad.

The bombing was President Trump’s most significant military order since taking office 11 weeks ago.

The Obama administration had previously threatened to attack Assad’s forces after a chemical weapon incident in 2013 that killed hundreds, but never launched an attack.

Before the strike Thursday, Trump said the Khan Sheikhoun chemical weapons attack crossed "many, many lines" He blamed Assad’s forces, saying it "shouldn’t have happened, and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen."

U.S. officials had hoped for a vote late Thursday on a United Nations Security Council resolution they drafted with allies condemning the chemical attack, but council members postponed the vote after delays negotiating the wording with Russian counterparts.

Syrian officials have insisted that they did not use chemical weapons and that it was opposition fighters who stockpiled the chemicals.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said a government airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory in the area that day, noting militant groups have continued to store chemical weapons in urban areas.

"The Syrian Arab Army did not and will not use such weapons even against the terrorists who are targeting our people," Moallem said at a Thursday briefing in Damascus, adding that “we condemn such a criminal act.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry also said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel arsenal outside Khan Sheikhoun.


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11:05 p.m.: This report was updated with a quote from Najib Ghadbian of the Syrian National Coalition.

This was originally posted at 10:55 p.m.