United States warns: we’re ‘prepared to do more’ in Syria

Trump ups stakes as US tomahawk cruise missiles destroy at least 14 Syrian aircraft

Syrian state news agency footage captured on a mobile phone purports to show U.S air strikes hitting the Syrian airbase near Homs.

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The United States has warned that it is “prepared to do more” to intervene in Syria after US president Donald Trump dramatically upped the stakes in the six-year conflict by ordering a military strike in retaliation for chemical attacks in the war-torn country.

59 Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from two US navy war ships in the eastern Mediterranean early on Friday morning local time, destroying at least 14 Syrian aircraft according to local pro-Government reports. The death toll has not yet been independently confirmed.

Speaking at an emergency sitting of the UN Security Council in New York, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley said that the actions had been “fully justified” and proportional. “We are prepared to do more but we hope that will not be necessary,” she said, adding that the “world is waiting for Russia to act responsibly.”

Amid growing expectations that the US may probe whether Russia was complicit in the use of chemical weapons, Russia denounced the US military air strikes as an “aggression” and warned of “serious consequences” as it pledged to bolster the air defences of the Syrian army. Moscow also suspended the air safety agreement which has governed US-Russian interaction in the skies over Syria.

A Kremlin spokesman described the strikes as an “aggression against a sovereign government in violations of the norms of international law, and under a far-fetched pretext,” warning that the step would cause “significant damage to Russian-American relations”.

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Speaking at the UN Security Council, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said the military strikes were a flagrant breach of international law.

With US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson scheduled to visit Moscow next Tuesday the suggestions from Washington that Russia may have had knowledge or involvement in the chemical attacks have the potential to seriously intensify tensions between the two countries which have been supporting opposite sides in the Syrian civil war.

Russia, with the backing of China, has consistently blocked anti-Assad resolutions brought by the UN Security Council.

As US allies in the Middle East, Europe and across the world lined up to commend the US action, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the issue was a “matter of grave concern”, noting that the American government had given warnings to those in the vicinity of the targeted area before the attack, and adding that he believed the use of chemical weapons was a war crime.

Iran, which has also intervened in the conflict on the side of the Assad regime, backed Russia in condemning the attack, with Iranian foreign minister accusing the United States of peddling “bogus chemical weapons allegations”.

Addressing the nation on Thursday night, President Trump, who has previously voiced opposition to intervening in Syria, said the decision to launch the strikes had been taken in the “vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons”. He said there could 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”.

Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad had “choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children,” the president said. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack. No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

UN secretary general, António Guterres appealed to all parties involved in the Syrian conflict for restraint. “Mindful of the risk of escalation, I appeal for restraint to avoid any acts that could deepen the suffering of the Syrian people,” he said in a statement.

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