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Deadly missile strikes hit Syria airbase

Deadly missile strikes hit Syria airbase

BEIRUT (AFP) – Deadly missile strikes hit a Syrian military airbase on Monday, state media said, but Washington and Paris denied carrying them out in response to an alleged poison gas attack.

US President Donald Trump and French counterpart Emmanuel Macron had on Sunday vowed a “strong, joint response” to the suspected chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma.

The alleged gas attack sparked global alarm and the UN Security Council was expected to discuss the crisis later on Monday.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported just before dawn that “several missiles” had hit T-4, also known as the Tiyas military base, in the central province of Homs.

It said air defence systems had been activated and initially reported it as a “suspected US attack” but later withdrew all references to the United States.

SANA said there were dead and wounded but did not give specific figures.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the country’s conflict, said 14 fighters had been killed, including Iranian forces allied to the country’s regime.

Forces from regime allies Russia and Iran, as well as fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, are known to have a presence at the base, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman denied Washington was behind the strikes.

“At this time, the Department of Defence is not conducting air strikes in Syria,” the spokesman said.

“However, we continue to closely watch the situation and support the ongoing diplomatic efforts to hold those who use chemical weapons, in Syria and otherwise, accountable.”

Trump warns ‘Animal Assad’ 

US forces a year ago fired a volley of cruise missiles at the government’s Shayrat air base in retaliation for another suspected chemical attack in April 2017.

The Shayrat airport lies just 70 kilometres (45 miles) west of T-4 along a main highway.

French armed forces spokesman Colonel Patrik Steiger also denied France carried out the strike, telling AFP: “It was not us.”

A military spokeswoman for Israel, which has struck Syrian military positions several times in recent years, declined to comment on the strike.

Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not accept its arch-foe Iran entrenching itself militarily in Syria. In February it carried out major air raids in Syria after an Israeli F16 fighter was shot down by Syrian air defences.

AFP’s correspondent in eastern Lebanon said a plane could be heard flying overhead towards the eastern border with Syria around 3:30 am local time (0030 GMT).

The T-4 base lies between Syria’s third city Homs and the ancient town of Palmyra.

Trump had reacted with fury to Saturday’s alleged chemical attack in Douma — the last rebel-held area of the onetime opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta — lashing out at Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay,” Trump warned on Sunday.

Syria and Moscow denounced the allegations as “fabrications” and warned against them being used as a pretext for any military action.

Backed by Moscow, Assad has waged a seven-week assault to dislodged rebels from Eastern Ghouta, their former bastion on the edge of Syria’s capital.

The assault killed more than 1,700 civilians, displaced tens of thousands, and left Islamist rebels cornered in their last holdout of Douma, the main town in Ghouta.

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