Site of Syrian chemical attack bombed again, deaths increase

NEW airstrikes have targeted a town in Syria devastated by a chemical attack earlier this week, with Russian planes believed to be responsible.

It wasn't immediately clear who conducted the strikes on Khan Sheikhoun, which was hit on Friday and Saturday, though only Russian and Syrian regime aircraft have been bombing that rebel-held area.

At least four civilians were killed with some putting the death toll as high as 15.

On Tuesday, more than 85 people were killed in a chemical attack which the US says was ordered by Syria's own government.

US President Donald Trump retaliated to the images of dead children by ordering an air strike to be conducted on Syria.

It comes as North Korea said the US missile strikes on Syria were an "intolerable act of aggression" that "proves a million times over" that strengthening its nuclear program was the right choice, state media reported Saturday.

The comments were Pyongyang's first since Mr Trump ordered the strikes on an air base in the war-wracked country on Thursday.

"The US missile attack against Syria is a clear and intolerable act of aggression against a sovereign state and we strongly condemn it," KCNA news agency quoted an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry as saying.

Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

"The reality of today shows that we must stand against power with power and it proves a million times over that our decision to strengthen our nuclear deterrence has been the right choice." Analysts had earlier said the strikes contained a clear message for Pyongyang that the US was not afraid to exercise the military option, and there had been speculation as to how the North would respond.

Mr Trump has recently threatened unilateral action against Pyongyang if Beijing fails to help curb its neighbour's nuclear weapons program.

However, Pyongyang's response suggested the reclusive state was determined to continue with its nuclear weapons program.

"Swaggering as a superpower, the US has been picking only on countries without nuclear weapons and the Trump administration is no exception," the foreign ministry spokesman said, according to KCNA.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government said the US was “one step away” from war after Mr Trump’s strike on Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government said the US was “one step away” from war after Mr Trump’s strike on Syria. AP Photo - Dmitri Lovetsky

A furious Russia also declared Mr Trump's strike on Syria put the United States "one step away" from war as it directed a warship towards the two US destroyers that launched Thursday's missile attack.

The US stood firm behind its retaliatory deployment of 59 Tomahawks on Shayrat Airbase, from where Syrian government forces launched a devastating chemical attack last Tuesday that horrified the world and killed at least 87.

Among those slaughtered were 27 children, and Mr Trump said footage of them struggling to breathe spurred his decision to launch the first military action of his presidency and the first US intervention into Syria's bloody six year civil war.

Trump was meeting again with his Chinese counterpart Friday, with U.S. missile strikes on Syria adding weight to his threat to act unilaterally against the nuclear weapons program of China's ally, North Korea.
Trump was meeting again with his Chinese counterpart Friday, with U.S. missile strikes on Syria adding weight to his threat to act unilaterally against the nuclear weapons program of China's ally, North Korea. AP Photo - Alex Brandon

While Mr Trump's decisive strike has the support of nations including Saudi Arabia, Australia, Britain and France.

However, Syria and its closest allies Russia and Iran have expressed outrage at the escalation.

But the US doubled down, saying it was investigating whether Russia was involved in the chemical strike as it foreshadowed new economic sanctions against Syria, where fighting has killed more than 400,000 and displaced 11 million people.

"We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary," US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the strikes dealt "a significant blow" to relations between Moscow and Washington. Russia's deputy ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, told the UN it was a "flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression" whose "consequences for regional and international security could be extremely serious."

And Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev claimed Mr Trump had been "one step away from military clashes with Russia".

Mr Trump's show of strength came during one of the most important meetings of his young presidency, as he hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife at the Florida golf resort dubbed the "winter White House".

The first high stakes summit between the two superpowers was to discuss trade, security in the South China Sea and how to counter the nuclear threat of an increasingly aggressive North Korea.

Mr Trump said in a brief appearance before reporters that he and Mr Xi made "tremendous progress" in their first face-to-face talks and that he believe "lots of very potentially bad problems will be going away".

The missile strike was one of several options considered by Mr Trump and his senior security advisers, who also canvassed targeting the palace of dictator Bashar al-Assad, according to Reuters.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said yesterday the air strikes were the result of a "72-hour evolution", which marked a reversal of Mr Trump's previous position, stated as recently as this week, that the US would not interfere in Syria.

Syrian media said the strikes on the air base in Homs province - just after 3.30am Friday local time - killed at least seven soldiers.

US officials said at least 20 jets were destroyed, as well as infrastructure.

Within hours, Russia reportedly sent its most advanced Black Sea frigate into the Eastern Mediterranean, towards the destroyers USS Ross and USS Porter.

The Admiral Grigorovich RFS-494 crossed through the Bosphorus Strait from the Black Sea, according to an unnamed US defence official who spoke to Fox News.

Russian news agency TASS said the ship had recently taken part in a joint exercise with Turkish ships and was bound for the Syrian port of Tartus on a routine voyage.

News Corp Australia

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