[It was the first direct military action the US has taken against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the six-year war. (CNN Video grab)]
Washington: The United States on Friday fired dozens of cruise missiles at a government-controlled airbase in Syria, in retaliation for what the administration of President Donald Trump charges was a chemical weapons attack that killed scores of civilians.
The Pentagon said 59 Tomahawk missiles hit at 3:45am on Friday morning Shayrat airfield in Homs province, from where they believe the Syrian jets that dropped the chemicals on a rebel-held town in Idlib province had taken off.
"Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government's ability to deliver chemical weapons," the Pentagon said in a statement, according to CNN.
Syrian state TV also reported a US missile attack on a number of military targets, calling it an "act of aggression", while Homs Governor Talal Barazi said the US strike will not affect the Syrian government or its ability to fight "terrorists".
The US military also showed reporters Thursday night an image of the radar track of a Syrian airplane leaving the airfield and flying to the chemical strike area Tuesday. A second image of bomb damage craters at the airbase was also shown to reporters at the Pentagon.
The strikes, launched from two warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted the base's airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said.
It was the first direct military action the US has taken against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the six-year war.
"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," Trump said.
Trump met with his national security team before his dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago Thursday, where he made the decision to pull the trigger on the biggest military action of his presidency, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said.
He sat through dinner with Xi as the action was under way.
The decision came two days after he was "immediately notified" of the chemical attack in Syria and asked his team to determine who was responsible. After it became clear Assad was responsible, Trump asked his team to develop options -- and settled on one Thursday after "a meeting of considerable length and far-reaching discussion," McMaster told reporters
Syria's opposition National Coalition hailed the US strike, saying it puts an end to an age of "impunity" and should be just the beginning.
At least 100 people were killed in Syria's rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib on Tuesday and left over 400 suffering from respiratory problems.
The village of Khan Sheikhoun to the south of Idlib had initially been hit before strikes on the White Helmets emergency services centre in Khan Sheikhoun and the Al-Rahme hospital.
"We have seen more than 40 strikes since 06h30," it said. "The toll continues to increase as do the strikes in the Idlib region as well as non-chemical attacks in Hama," the group said.
The Syrian Observatory reported that strikes on Khan Sheikhoun by the Syrian government or Russian jets had caused many people to choke. Local opposition activists and media outlets posted pictures of those they said had died of asphyxiation.