Six people were killed and serious damage was caused by a US missile strike on a Syrian air base in the center of the country early Friday, Syria’s army said.
A US official said 59 precision guided missiles hit the regime-held Shayrat Airfield, north of the Syrian capital Damascus, from which Washington believes Tuesday’s deadly chemical weapons attack was launched.
“At 3:42 am (0042 GMT) the United States carried out a flagrant aggression with missiles against one of our airbases in the central region, killing six people and wounding a number of others, and causing significant damage,” a Syrian military spokesman said, reading from a statement on state television.
He did not specify whether the casualties were civilian or military, and gave no further details on the damage caused by the attack on the Shayrat Airfield in Homs province.
The strike was the first direct US military action against President Bashar Assad since the start of Syria’s war in March 2011.
It came after the suspected chemical attack against a rebel-held town that killed at least 86 people and left dozens more suffering convulsions, vomiting and foaming at the mouth.
Syria’s government and army denied any use of chemical weapons or involvement in the incident.
“The high command of the army and armed forces confirms that its response will be further determination to pursue its national duty in the defence of the Syrian people and to crush terrorism wherever it is,” the statement added.
It accused Washington of being allied with jihadist groups like the Islamic State group, and said it was seeking to “justify this aggression” by pointing the finger at Damascus for the suspected chemical attack “without knowing the truth.”
About 60 US Tomahawk missiles hit the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, a small installation with two runways, where aircraft often take off to bomb targets in northern and central Syria. The US missiles hit at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning and targeted the base’s airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, US officials said.
They were fired from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, in retaliation for Tuesday’s deadly chemical attack that officials said used chlorine mixed with a nerve agent, possibly sarin. That attack left at least 86 dead — including 27 children — in the northern Idlib province and provoked global outrage.
A monitor put the death toll in the US airstrike at four, including a Syrian general.
“An air commodore was among the four soldiers killed,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The airbase was almost completely destroyed — the runway, the fuel tanks and the air defenses were all blown to pieces,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.
“There were Sukhoi-22, Sukhoi-24 and MiG-23” fighter aircraft on the ground, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
The officers’ quarters at Shayrat, the government’s second most important airbase, were also damaged, he added.
Only Latakia airbase in the heartland of Assad’s regime on the Mediterranean coast, where his ally Russia also maintains extensive facilities, is more extensive.
Washington said that Russian military officials in Syria were informed of the strike beforehand in order to avoid casualties that could prompt a broader crisis.