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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 April 2018

US starts air strikes in Syria in response to chemical weapons attack — live updates

Donald Trump announced the air strikes in a televised statement from the White House

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Summary:

Trump announces air strikes in Syria — read the full overnight story here

• US, UK and France launched a co-ordinated air campaign at 4am local time

• Missiles targeted a research centre, two chemical weapons facilities and an Assad regime command centre

Saudi Arabia fully supports US-led strikes on Syria

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5:30am: China and Venezuela condemn strikes

Venezuela said the action violated international law as well as Syria's sovereignty.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also said the strikes contravened international law.

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5:15am: UK would consider cyber-attack on Russia

British newspaper the Sunday Times is reporting that the UK would consider launching a cyber attack if its infrastructure is targeted by Moscow.

Citing unnamed security sources, the paper also said that British spy chiefs had been preparing for leaks about politicians from Russian-based hackers.

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4:00am: US, France, Britain launch new UN bid for Syria chemical weapons probe

The United States, France and Britain launched a new bid at the United Nations to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The three allies circulated a joint draft resolution at the Security Council that also calls for unimpeded deliveries of humanitarian aid, enforcing a ceasefire and demands that Syria engage in UN-led peace talks, according to the text obtained by AFP.

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3:05am: The Pentagon have claimed that the strikes have struck a serious blow to Assad regime's chemical weapons capabilities.

Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, said 105 guided missiles were fired, no civilian casualties reported so far.

This image provided by the US Department of Defense was presented as part of a briefing slide at a Pentagon briefing to show preliminary damage on Syria's capabilities of chemical weapons. AP
This image provided by the US Department of Defense was presented as part of a briefing slide at a Pentagon briefing to show preliminary damage on Syria's capabilities of chemical weapons. AP

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2:30am: Risk of humanitarian disaster in Idlib, France warns

The Syrian army could target the rebel-controlled city of Idlib next, France's Foreign Minister said on Saturday.

"There is a risk of a new humanitarian disaster. Idlib's fate must be settled by a political process, which includes disarming the militias," Jean-Yves Le Drian said in an interview with French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche.

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1:40am: Putin, Erdogan discuss bilateral efforts on Syria - Kremlin

Reuters: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan discussed the situation in Syria by phone and agreed on the need to boost bilateral efforts for political settlement of the conflict in Syria, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

Putin highlighted that actions of a group of Western states in Syria violate international law as well as the rules of the United Nations, the Kremlin said on its website.

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1:00am: Morocco condemns Syria strike action

Morocco, a western ally, has said the strike action will complicate the conflict, the foreign ministry said.

"Past experiences taught us that military options, including air strikes, no matter how justified they might be, will only complicate political solutions, worsen the suffering of civilian victims and exacerbate anti-Western sentiments," it said in a statement.

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12:30am: Syrian citizens and rebels expect no change after missile strikes

Attack on chemical sites by US and allies seen as unlikely to weaken Assad's tightening grip.

A bus carrying Jaish Al Islam rebel fighters and their families out of the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma arrives at the Wafideen crossing on April 14, 2018. AFP
A bus carrying Jaish Al Islam rebel fighters and their families out of the Eastern Ghouta town of Douma arrives at the Wafideen crossing on April 14, 2018. AFP

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11:50pm: European leaders join Canada's PM Justin Trudeau in supporting joint US, French and UK action

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel calls the strikes “necessary and appropriate, to ensure the effectiveness of the international ban of chemical weapons use and to warn the Syrian regime of further violations.”

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, tweets:

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11:05pm: Syrian army declares Ghouta rebel enclave fully retaken

AFP: The Syrian army on Saturday declared that all anti-regime forces had left Eastern Ghouta, nearly two months into a blistering offensive on the rebel enclave.

"All terrorists have left Douma, the last of their holdouts in Eastern Ghouta," state news agency SANA quoted an army spokesman as saying, using the regime's usual term for rebels.

A Syrian child waits in a stroller as buses with Jaish Al Islam fighters and their families on board arrive from their former rebel bastion of Douma in Eastern Ghouta at a checkpoint. Nazeer Al Khatib / AFP
A Syrian child waits in a stroller as buses with Jaish Al Islam fighters and their families on board arrive from their former rebel bastion of Douma in Eastern Ghouta at a checkpoint. Nazeer Al Khatib / AFP

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10:10pm: Douma attack may have included sarin nerve agent

AFP: The US believes the nerve agent sarin may have been used in addition to chlorine in the alleged Syrian atrocity that triggered western military strikes. An analysis of images taken from the scene of last week's attack in Douma pointed to use of the banned agent, a senior official told AFP.

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9:39pm: UNSC rejects Russian resolution condemning Syrian 'aggression' by US and allies

AP: Russia has lost its bid to secure a UN Security Council resolution condemning the US, UK and France for carrying out military strikes on Syria. The Moscow-drafted resolution also demanded that the allies refrain from further strikes.

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9:00pm: US, French and British leaders agree military strikes a success

Downing Street said Prime Minister Theresa May spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump in separate phone calls on Saturday and all three agreed military strikes were "a success".

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8:20pm: Nato: North Atlantic Council statement on briefing by Western Allies

Nato statement: US, French and UK representatives briefed the North Atlantic Council that a "significant body" of information indicated that the Syrian regime was responsible for the Douma attack on April 7, and that the military action was limited to the Syrian regime’s facilities enabling the production and employment of chemical weapons.

"Despite sustained diplomatic efforts, the Syrian regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons against civilians has contributed to appalling human suffering since the start of the conflict in 2011."

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7:40pm: Russian and US ambassadors go head-to-head at tense UN Security Council meeting

Russia's Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya told an emergency session of the UN Security Council that "Russian military experts did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agents when they visited these sites. Not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place."

He called the US, UK and French action an act of aggression taken without evidence in a demonstration of "cynical disdain".

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, however, said a large body of evidence indicated Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's involvement in the use of chemical weapons.

"The pictures of dead children were not 'fake news'. They were the result of the Syrian regime's barbarian inhumanity. And they were the result of the regime and Russia's failure to live up to their international commitments, to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. The United States, France and United Kingdom acted after careful evaluation of these facts," Ms Haley said.

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7:18pm: Russia's FM Sergei Lavrov calls Syrian attack 'unacceptable' and 'lawless'

Reuters: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that US-led strikes on Syria were "unacceptable and lawless." Speaking at an assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, Mr Lavrov said he would talk "about how our western partners explain their absolutely lawless and unacceptable actions" in Syria.

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7:10pm: PM Theresa May's team rejects claims that the Syrian strikes were 'legally questionable'

The UK published the attorney general's opinion on Saturday confirming that military strikes against Syria were legal following questions by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn. Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis took it one step further, telling Sky News: "This was the right thing to do, a very targeted, very specific operation that is in the national security interest." So why not allow MPs to hold a vote in Parliament? Mr Lewis said the operational security of the mission and security of UK armed forces had to be taken into consideration, and Prime Minister Theresa May will speak to Parliament on Monday.

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6pm: Sleepless night for Turkey's Erdogan

AFP: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed the strikes against Syrian leader Al Assad's regime as "appropriate" in retaliation for Damascus' "inhumane" attacks. "We consider this operation as appropriate," Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling party in Istanbul.

"The regime has seen that its mounting attacks in recent days against dissidents... will not be left unanswered."

Erdogan said he had a "sleepless night" as he monitored all the developments.

"It is not possible for us to approve the situation encountered by (Syrian) babies as a result of the use of chemicals weapons," he said. "Whoever the perpetrators they should pay a price."

Erdogan, who has spoken with with British Prime Minister Theresa May, said he would also speak with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said the strikes had not been launched via Turkey's southern Incirlik air base.

"Turkey was informed ahead of the attack," he wrote on Twitter. "The Incirlik base was not used in the attack."

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5.40pm: Syria chemical weapons programme 'set back for years'

The Pentagon has just said at a briefing that the joint US-British-French operation had "successfully hit every target," countering assertions from Russia that dozens of missiles were intercepted.

"We do not seek conflict in Syria, but we cannot allow such grievous violations of international law," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White told reporters.

"We successfully hit every target," she said. "The strikes were justified, legitimate and proportionate."

General McKenzie added that three sites that are "fundamental components of the regime's chemical weapons infrastructure" were struck.

The operation was "precise, overwhelming and effective," he said, adding it will set their chemical weapons programme back "for years".

McKenzie said that none "of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defences."

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4.30pm: Trump says 'mission accomplished' in Syria

US President Donald Trump on Twitter praised the air strikes against the Syrian government as "perfectly executed", and added "Mission Accomplished".

"A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!" Mr Trump said in a Twitter post.

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4.05pm: Strikes have made Assad 'more determined'

Al Assad said the strikes on government military installations only made him more keen to fight back against his opponents.

"This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country," Mr Al Assad told his Iranian counterpart Rouhani in comments published by his office Saturday.

Read the full story here

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3.50pm: A week in Syria

Graphic News
Graphic News

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2.59pm: OPCW will continue to probe chemical attack

Experts from the world's global chemical arms watchdog are continuing their mission to probe a gas attack in Douma despite the air strikes.

"The fact-finding mission team of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will continue its deployment to the Syrian Arab Republic to establish facts around the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma," the OPCW said in a brief statement.

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2.51pm: Nato expresses support

The head of Nato expressed his support for the strikes.

"I support the actions taken by the United States, the United Kingdom and France … This will reduce the regime's ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

He said the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons was "a clear breach of international norms and agreements".

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2.50pm: Opinion - Damien McElroy on Syria

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2.48pm: Jordan urges political solution for Syria crisis

US ally Jordan said only a political solution would guarantee the stability of Syria and the territorial integrity of the war-torn country.

"Continued violence will only lead to more violence, conflict, fighting and displacement whose victim is the Syrian people," government spokesman Mohammad Al Momani said in a statement carried by state-news agency Petra.

The statement did not refer to the dawn air strikes on Syria.

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2.46pm: Saudi Arabia backs US

Saudi Arabia expressed its full support for US-led strikes on Syrian government military installations, saying they were a response to "regime crimes" against civilians.

"Saudi Arabia fully supports the strikes launched by the United States, France and Britain against Syria because they represent a response to the regime's crimes," a foreign ministry statement said.

The statement, carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, said the strikes were prompted by the "Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, including women and children".

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2.44pm Putin says US actions worsened humanitarian catastrophe

Russia called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council as Moscow said it would consider supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria following the US-led strikes.

"Russia convenes an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss aggressive actions of the US and its allies," President Putin said in a statement published on the Kremlin website.

"The current escalation of the situation around Syria has a devastating impact on the whole system of international relations," he added.

Mr Putin said the US actions in Syria made the humanitarian catastrophe worse and caused pain for civilians.

"Russia in the most serious way condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military servicemen help the legitimate government to fight terrorism," Mr Putin said.

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2.05pm: Assad says strikes only make him more keen to fight ‘terrorism’

Al Assad said that western strikes on government military installations only made him more keen to fight back against his opponents, in comments published by his office.

"This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country," Mr Assad, in his first reaction to the strikes, told his Iranian counterpart Rouhani.

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1.21pm: Strikes on Syria claimed no victims, Russia says

Russia's defence ministry said the strikes on Syria claimed no victims among civilians or military.

"According to preliminary information, there were no victims among peaceful civilians and the Syrian military," senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi said at a briefing in Moscow.

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1.05pm: Western strikes ‘farce’ as long as Assad stays, Syria rebels say

A prominent Syrian rebel faction said the strikes against government positions were a "farce" as long as President Al Assad remained in power.

"Punishing the instrument of the crime while keeping the criminal — a farce," wrote Mohammad Alloush, a key member of the Jaish Al Islam rebel group.

Jaish Al Islam was in control of the town of Douma, the site of the chemical attack that prompted Western military action.

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12.50pm: Columnist Hussein Ibish on the developments

Our columnist Hussein Ibish writes that the overnight action by the US, UK and France “won't have much of a repudiating quality if it proves as limited and symbolic as last year’s. But the US actions so far are not vastly different, and leave almost all of the key regime targets, let along anything connected to Iran and Hezbollah, untouched.”

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Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff speaks during a briefing at the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, April 14, 2018. Rudskoi says Saturday's strike hasn't caused any casualties and Syrian military facilities targeted by the U.S., Britain and France have suffered only minor damage. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Col Gen Sergei Rudskoi of the military's General Staff speaks during a briefing at the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, April 14, 2018. Rudskoi says Saturday's strike hasn't caused any casualties and Syrian military facilities targeted by the US, Britain and France have suffered only minor damage. Pavel Golovkin / AP Photo

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12.45pm: Theresa May press conference

Theresa May, the UK’s prime minister, said the air strikes sent a message to the Syrian regime and its allies that the use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated.

She said that the targeted attacks would be followed up by diplomatic efforts to strengthen the 100-year legal framework that bans the use of such weapons.

Mrs May said she believed the air strikes had been successful but the results were still being analysed.

“The lesson of history is that when global rules and standards that keep us safe come under threat, we must take a stand and defend them,” she told a news conference at 10 Downing Street.

“This sends a clear message that the international community will not stand by and tolerate the use of chemical weapons.”

She said that the strikes were focused on Syria and “degrading and deterring” its ability to use chemical weapons but said it was a message to others, in a reference to the alleged use of nerve agent by Russia to kill a former spy in Salisbury, southern England, last month.

You can read more on her news conference here

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12.40pm: Germany's Angela Merkel comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the action was "necessary and appropriate" after the suspected chemical weapons attacks that killed dozens in Douma.

"We support the fact that our US, British and French allies … assumed their responsibilities. The military intervention was necessary and appropriate," Merkel said in a statement.

The chancellor on Thursday had ruled out Germany joining any military action against Syria.

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12.30pm: A look back at US involvement in Syria

The US has largely avoided wading directly into the Syrian conflict or confronting Al Assad and his allies throughout the seven-year war.

Click here for a look at significant times when US forces used air and missile strikes to expand their role in Syria beyond the fight against ISIS

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12.10pm: EU supports allies’ strikes on Syria

European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU stood by the US, France and Britain over their air strikes against the regime in Syria.

"Strikes by US, France and UK make it clear that Syrian regime together with Russia and Iran cannot continue this human tragedy, at least not without cost. The EU will stand with our allies on the side of justice," Mr Tusk said in a Twitter message.

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11.55am: Russia calls emergency session of UN Security Council

Russia said it was calling an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, where it is a permanent member, over Western strikes on Syria.

"Russia is calling an emergency session of the UN Security Council to discuss the aggressive actions of the US and its allies," the Kremlin said in a statement. It added: "Russia severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military are helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism."

The Russian military says Syrian air defence units downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by US and its allies.

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11.22am: Turkey says informed ahead of air strikes

Turkey was informed ahead of US, British and French strikes on Syria, ruling AK Party spokesman Mahir Unal said in a televised interview on CNN Turk.

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11.20am: Military situation in Syria

Here's a helpful map from AFP explaining the military positions in Syria …

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11.15am: Iran Guards warn of fallout for US of Syria attack

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei said the attack on Syria is a crime, and the US, British and French leaders are criminal, reported Al Mayadeen TV.

"US allies will not gain any achievements from crimes in Syria. Attacking Syria is a crime. US president, UK prime minister and the president of France are criminals," he said.

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11.10am: Britain says strikes had ‘significant impact’

Missile strikes against Syria have had a significant impact on what the Assad government can do in the future, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told LBC radio.

When asked if the West was now in a new Cold War with Russia, Mr Williamson said relations with Moscow were at a low point but he wanted the Kremlin to use its influence with Al Assad to end the Syrian civil war.

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10.59am: Iran Guards warn of fallout for US of Syria attack

Yadollah Javani, Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ deputy head for political affairs, said that the fallout from US-led attacks on Syria will be at Washington’s expense.

"With this attack … the situation will become more complex, and this will surely be at the expense of the United States, which will be responsible for the aftermath of upcoming regional events that will certainly not be in their interest," he told Fars news agency.

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10.55am: Flights out of Damascus resume

There's some interesting maps coming out of the Flightradar24 website this morning, the first of which shows that Syrian Air has started flying out of the capital again following the air strikes.

Meanwhile, this one shows a comparison of flights routes in the area from a week ago to now:

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10.40am: Boris Johnson welcomes UK strikes against Syria regime

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10.35am: UN expresses concern

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed concern that the Syrian crisis could quickly spiral out of control.

"I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people," Guterres said.

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10.31am: Canada supports western strikes on Syria

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his country’s support for punitive strikes carried out by the US, Britain and France against the Assad regime.

"Canada supports the decision by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France to take action to degrade the Assad regime's ability to launch chemical weapons attacks against its own people," Mr Trudeau said.

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10.25am: Oil price on the rise

The geopolitical tensions have given the oil price a boost in the past week. Brent for June settlement climbed 56 cents to end the session on Friday at $72.58 on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange, the highest since November 2014. Read more here

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10.20am: Assad arrives for work in presidency — Video

The Syrian presidency posted a video that appeared to show President Bashar Al Assad arriving for work on Saturday hours after a US-led strike on Syria

"The morning of resilience," said a caption accompanying the video.

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9.58am: Turkey welcomes strikes targeting Assad’s regime

Turkey said on Saturday that the strikes were an “appropriate reaction” in retaliation for a chemical attack on Douma that left dozens dead.

"We welcome this operation that articulates the conscience of all humanity in the face of the Douma attack which has a strong suspicion of being carried out by the regime," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.

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9.56am: Hezbollah says US war on Syria will fail

The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah said that a US war against Syria and “resistance movements” would fail to achieve its objectives.

"The war that America is waging against Syria, against peoples of the region and resistance and liberation movements will not realise its goals," Hezbollah, which fights alongside forces loyal to Al Assad, said in a statement.

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9.52am: Statement on UAE airlines

The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) released a statement overnight on the effect of events in Syria on UAE carriers.

It said was monitoring the impact on airports in the Syrian border or neighbouring countries, which the UAE national carriers operate to and from.

Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi, Director General of GCAA, said: "The GCAA is in close co-ordination with the concerned authorities in the State and the national carriers, in dealing with the current situation at the moment and in accordance with the changes taking place.

"The Authority will take appropriate action in the event there is any threat against the safety and security of civil aviation. The GCAA has issued a circular to national carriers operating flights to countries close to Syria to take precautionary measures.''

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9.50am: Macron addresses France

Here's the announcement made this morning by French President Emmanuel Macron …

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9:44am: Syrian foreign ministry response

The Syrian foreign ministry denounced the strikes as a “brutal, barbaric aggression”.

It said the wave of attacks aimed to block a probe by the OPCW global chemical watchdog into a gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma. The Assad government denied launching a gas attack despite evidence showing otherwise.

The attack "aims at hindering the mission's work and pre-empting its results", reported state news agency, Sana, citing a source at the Syrian foreign ministry.

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9.41am: Russian defence ministry says 100+ missiles fired

The Russian defence ministry said the US and its allies fired more than 100 cruise missiles at Syria, a significant number of which were intercepted by Syrian air defences.

"More than 100 cruise missiles and air-to-land missiles were fired by the US, Britain and France from the sea and air at Syrian military and civilian targets," the ministry said in a statement quoted by RIA Novosti news agency. "A significant number" were shot down by Syrian air defences, the report added.

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9.37am: Iran warns of 'regional consequences'

Iran warned on Saturday of “regional consequences” following the wave of strikes in Syria by the US, Britain and France.

"The United States and its allies have no proof and, without even waiting for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to take a position, have carried out this military attack," said the Iranian foreign ministry in a statement. They "are responsible for the regional consequences of this adventurist action", it added.

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9.35am: Syrians demonstrate in Damascus

Hundreds of Syrians are said to be demonstrating in a landmark square in Damascus, waving victory signs and honking car horns. The Associated Press reported that State TV was broadcasting live from the square where a large crowd of civilians mixed with men in uniforms, including an actor, lawmakers and other figures.

Syrian government supporters wave Syrian, Iranian and Russian flags as they chant slogans against US President Donald Trump during demonstrations following a wave of US, British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Al Assad for a chemical attack against civilians, in Damascus, Syria, on April 14, Hassan Ammar / AP
Syrian government supporters wave Syrian, Iranian and Russian flags as they chant slogans against US President Donald Trump during demonstrations following a wave of US, British and French military strikes to punish President Bashar Al Assad for a chemical attack against civilians, in Damascus, Syria, on April 14, Hassan Ammar / AP

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9.30am: Stay with us for all of the latest updates after the US, UK and France launched a co-ordinated attack on Syria during the night in response to the use of chemical weapons in rebel-held Douma a week ago.

After a week of deliberations, US President Donald Trump made a televised statement from the White House ordering "precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad".

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Read more:

Hussein Ibish: With the military attack, the US can finally start to get it right in Syria

How might the West strike Syria?

UN chief warns that Middle East 'chaos' threatens global peace

Russia blames UK for staging 'fake' Syrian chemical attack