Syrian media has reported that Syrian defences hit 13 rockets south of Damascus. It said vehicles with loudspeakers later emerged on the streets of Damascus blaring nationalist songs.
Some more detail on the recent Pentagon briefing conducted by US defence secretary James Mattis. He said there were no reports yet of any US losses during the initial airstrikes.
He said “right now this is a one-time shot” but did not rule out further attacks. Donald Trump said earlier that the campaign against Bashar al-Assad could be “sustained”.
France’s president Emannuel Macron said he acted because “a red line has been crossed”.
The Pentagon briefing has now wrapped up and I will get you more detailed information on that shortly.
Circling back to the UK’s involvement, Gavin Williamson, the UK defence secretary, said: “The reprehensible use of chemical weapons in Douma is further evidence of the Syrian regime’s appalling cruelty against its own people. We will not stand by whilst innocent civilians, including women and children, are killed and made to suffer.
“The international community has responded decisively with legal and proportionate military force. Let these united actions send a clear message to the regime – the use of chemical weapons is categorically unacceptable and you will be held to account.”
Here is the full text of Donald Trump’s earlier announcement of strikes against the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability.
In it, he says the attack a week ago on Douma “was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime”.
He adds: “The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons.”
“I also have a message tonight for the two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime.
“To Iran, and to Russia, I ask: What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”
Mattis is still answering detailed questions. He says he is confident a chemical weapon was used, possibly sarin.
Our wrap on the UK involvement in the Syrian strikes is up now. In a statement, prime minister Theresa May said it was not a decision she had taken lightly. In a thinly veiled swipe at Russia, and the Skripals poisoning, she said: “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – within Syria, on the streets of the UK, or anywhere else in our world. We would have preferred an alternative path. But on this occasion there is none.”
France, the third partner in these strikes, has issued a statement. President Emmanuel Macron said the attack would be limited to Syria’s chemical weapons facilities.
“We cannot tolerate the recurring use of chemical weapons, which is an immediate danger for the Syrian people and our collective security,” a statement said.
Mattis: “We did everything we could to minimise any chance of civilian casualties. We are aware this is very difficult.”
Mattis is asked when he was confident a chemical attack happened. He says yesterday.
Dunford is taking questions now, and says the Russians were not previously notified of the targets.
Dunford makes the point that last time the US conducted an airstrike – following a chemical attack in Ghouta – it was a unilateral action. This time, two allies – the Uk and France – were involved.
Mattis passes over to General Dunford. He says three sites have been hit.
The first target was a science research facility in the greater Damascus area. The second was a storage facility west of Homs they believe held precursor chemicals and sarin. The third was a chemical storage depot and “important command post”.
Mattis says the strikes were directed at the Syrian regime and that the military had “gone to great length to avoid civil and foreign casualties”.
Mattis: allies took ‘decisive action’
Mattis said the US, UK and France took “decisive action” chemical weapon infrastructure. “Clearly the Assad regime did not get the message,” he said and that with US allies a clear message had been sent not to perpetrate another attack.
James Mattis, the US defence secretary, is speaking now.
The MoD said the strike in Homs was designed to “maximise the destruction of the stockpiled chemicals and to minimise any risks of contamination to the surrounding area”. It said the facility is “some distance” from any known concentrations of civilian habitation.
It said initial indications showed the attack was successful.
Four RAF Tornados were part of the attack
The UK’s Ministry of Defence has given details of its involvement in tonight’s strikes.
It says four RAF Tornados flew from Cyprus and fired Storm Shadow missiles at a former missile base in Syria, near Homs, where the Syrian government was believed to have kept chemical weapon precursors.
We have a wrap of what we know so far, by Julian Borger, our world affairs editor, here.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader has issued a strong rebuke of Trump for his actions, saying” “One night of airstrikes is not a substitute for a clear, comprehensive Syria strategy.”
She said the the president must come to Congress and secure authorisation for use of military force, while also holding “Putin accountable for his enabling of the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people.”
Further explosions are being heard in Damascus. CNN is quoting a senior administration official saying “this isn’t over” and that tonight is just the first wave of a “multi-wave” attack.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says several military bases have also been hit. It says the Republican Guard headquarters and the army’s 4th division were targeted.
Some more detail on the situation in Damascus. A Reuters witness has said at least six loud explosions were heard in the city and smoke was seen rising. Syrian state TV has said the army’s air defences were confronting an attack by the United States, France and Britain.
A second witness said the Barzah district of Damascus had been hit in the strikes. Barzah is the location of a major Syrian scientific research centre.
Worth noting that staff from the UN’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were due to visit Damascus on Saturday to determine whether chemical weapons were used in Douma on 7 April.
Trump’s decision comes on a day of rapid developments:
- The Russian defence minister, Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, claimed to have direct evidence that Britain had orchestrated the alleged chemical attack at Douma in Syria. The UK, he said, was “directly involved in the provocation”.
- The White House said it had “a high level of confidence” that the Syrian regime carried out the chemical weapon attack in Douma.
- The US, UK and France continued to build up military resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
The US is using Tomahawk cruise missiles in its strikes in Syria, and taking aim at multiple targets in the country, a US official has told Reuters. This would tally with CNN reports that ships and aircraft form part of the attack.
Syrian air defences confronting allied jets – state TV
Syrian state TV says anti-aircraft weapons are being used against jets conducting air strikes. A district in Damascus, Barzeh, which houses a scientific laboratory, has been hit, according to one Reuters witness.
May echoes Trump’s sentiments in saying that the strike is targeted and is not intended as heralding an open-ended military presence.
She continues the pressure on Russia, whom the UK separately accuses of poisoning former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, saying: “While this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.”
She criticises Russia for playing a role in closing off alternatives to military action, referring to a veto by Moscow of a UN security council resolution on investigating the attack in Douma. She says “There is no practicable alternative to the use of force to degrade and deter the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.”
May says the fact that the chemical attack happened “should surprise no one” given the regime’s history.
This persistent pattern of behaviour must be stopped – not just to protect innocent people in Syria from the horrific deaths and casualties caused by chemical weapons but also because we cannot allow the erosion of the international norm that prevents the use of these weapons. We have sought to use every possible diplomatic channel to achieve this.
Theresa May issues statement
The British prime minister, moments after Trump finished speaking.
This evening I have authorised British armed forces to conduct co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use. We are acting together with our American and French allies. In Douma, last Saturday a chemical weapons attack killed up to 75 people, including young children, in circumstances of pure horror.
Explosions heard in Damascus
Reuters says witnesses in Damascus have heard several large explosions and seen smoke on the east side of the city. Douma lies to the north-east. It is unclear if these are related to the US president’s announcement.
Donald Trump has finished speaking now. A Pentagon briefing, presumably shedding light on the targets, will follow in 50 minutes. Stay with us as we make sense of what has happened and will happen.
A little flair is entering his statement now: Trump refers to the “righteous power” of the US, UK and France in acting in the region. He urges Americans to say a prayer. He finishes with: “We pray that god will bring comfort to the suffering and guide the whole region.”
“The US will be a partner and a friend but the fate of the region lies in the hands of its own people.”
“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria. We look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home.”
Trump delivers a message to those associated with the Assad regime in Syria. “What kind of nation wants to be associated with mass murder of innocent men women and children?” he asks.
The US president says “the evil and despicable attack left mothers and fathers, women and children thrashing in pain”. He says “they are crimes of a monster”.
A combined US, British and French military response is under way.
Strikes have been ordered against the Assad regime, says Trump
The president says he has ordered armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with chemical weapons capabilities
Trump is on stage
While we await an announcement, relations between the west and Russia have deteriorated sharply amid concerns about a US reprisal in the Middle East after the attack in which at least 45 people were killed and hundreds more were affected.
The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, declared on Friday “the cold war is back with a vengeance”.
We will keep you updated on events in Washington and elsewhere as we go along.
Trump announcement expected
Hello and welcome. The White House press corps has been called to gather for an announcement by the US president at 9pm Washington time. He is expected to announce the US response to the chemical attack by the Syrian regime in the Damascus suburb of Douma a week ago.
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