“A short time ago, I ordered the United States Armed Forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said in a televised address from the White House.
The US has threatened military intervention over what President Donald Trump has described as an “atrocious” attack, which killed at least 40 people.
Washington placed the blame on the government of President Bashar al-Assad, but Damascus has denied the accusations, saying the attack was the work of terrorists.
The US already struck government targets in Syria last April, when Trump ordered a cruise missile attack on a government air base in response to a sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun which killed more than 80 civilians.
Strike starts while Syria confronts
Shortly after Trump began his address, loud explosions were heard in the Syrian capital Damascus, signaling a new chapter in a brutal seven-year civil war.
According to Syrian state TV, US started its military action against the capital before daybreak Saturday as loud explosions were heard reverberating across the capital Damascus with red dots seen flying from earth to the sky in what appeared to be air defenses responding to the US strike.
“Syrian air defense blocks American, British, French aggression on Syria,” state television added.
The Syrian state news agency SANA also slammed strikes as illegal and “doomed to fail.”
“The aggression is a flagrant violation of international law, a breach of the international community’s will, and it is doomed to fail,” SANA said.
Meanwhile, chemical research centers in and around the capital were hit by the US-led strikes.
“The Western coalition strikes targeted scientific research centers, several military bases, and the bases of the Republican Guard and Fourth Division in the capital Damascus and around it,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Trump said the strikes would aim to deter chemical weapons use by the Syrian government and stressed he was prepared to sustain the response until the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stopped its use of chemical weapons.
The US Defense Secretary James Mattis stated later on Friday that the air strikes on targets in Syria were a “one time shot” to send a strong message.
He also told public, “this wave of air strikes is over” and “right now we have no additional attacks planned.”
The intervention was the biggest strike by Western powers against the Syrian government in the country’s seven-year-old civil war.
May, Macron: No alternative to use of force
British Prime Minister Theresa May later confirmed that she had authorized coordinated and targeted strikes against Syria with American and French allies to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons capability.
“This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change,” May said in a statement. “It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.”
May said that, while the strike was targeted at Syria, it sent a message to “anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.”
British jets have fired missiles at a Syrian military facility near Homs suspected of storing chemical weapon ingredients, Britain’s defense ministry also confirmed later.
French President Emmanuel Macron also confirmed that he had ordered French military intervention in Syria with the US and Britain.
He claimed the strike aimed to target “the capacities of the Syrian regime to produce and use chemical weapons.”
“We cannot tolerate the normalization of the use of chemical weapons,” he added.
Russia: Unacceptable and inadmissible
The Russia’s ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov warned on Friday that there would be consequences for the US-led strikes on Syria, adding that it was not acceptable to insult Russia’s president.
“Again, we are being threatened,” he said in a statement, “We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.”
“Insulting the president of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible,” he added.
Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook: “Those behind all this claim moral leadership in the world and declare they are exceptional. You need to be really exceptional to shell Syria’s capital at the moment when it had gained a chance of a peaceful future.”
Zakharova suggested that Western media bore some responsibility for the strikes, claiming the White House cited “multiple media sources” on the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma.
“American and other Western media must understand their responsibility for what happened,” Zakharova wrote.
The Russian defense ministry and the Kremlin have yet to make any comments on the strikes.