Air raid sirens and Syrian and Russian air defence systems were reported to be firing at incoming missiles tonight, as President Trump announced a co-ordinated strike on Syria.
Massive explosions were heard and filmed in the Syrian capital Damascus and there were unconfirmed reports of Syrian rebels using the opportunity to attack to the South.
On Friday night the US President announced the military response to the chemical weapon attack on the rebel held Damascus suburb of Douma that killed around 85 people on April 7.
He said that France and Britain were involved too. Prime Minister Theresa May had refused calls for a vote in the House of Commons on British involvement in any military action in Syria. But British jets were already being readied as the cabinet met to discuss a response to the chemical attack.
The bombardment began just hours after inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Syria and hours before they were due to start work investigating the chemical attack on Saturday.
“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said in a live TV announcement from the White House Diplomatic Room.
Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, adding that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”
“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic,” Trump added. He said the strikes are a response to the “crimes of a monster.”
“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” the president added.
“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria,” Trump insisted. “As other nations step up their contributions we look forward to the day we can bring our warriors home.”
Many are worried that an estimated 2,000 US forces fighting in Syria against ISIS could now face retaliation from Syrian or indeed Russian or Iranian forces helping Assad’s troops.
Syria and Russia have denied involvement in the chemical weapons attack, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insists has been staged.
And the Russian Ambassador to Lebanon had insisted that the Russian military will not only shoot down any missiles fired at Syrian positions, but hit back at their source.
After last week’s monstrous attack on civilians, some have been pressing on Donald Trump for a more serious retaliation than his last one in April 2017. Unlike his predecessor in the White House, President Trump has made it clear that there will be a military response to chemical weapon use.
Last night he talked of the previous occasion, saying: “one year ago Assad launched a savage chemical weapons attack against his own innocent people. The United States responded with 58 missile strikes that destroyed 20 percent of the Syrian Air Force.”
But in reality, the airfield targeted last year resumed operations shortly after the attack and, according to Western intelligence, chemical attacks resumed with impunity.
Many chemical attacks on rebel areas have been reported since, mostly involving chlorine rather than the nerve agent sarin used in 2017.
Whether the US, UK and France will be drawn into a bigger operation this time round remains to be seen.
Tomahawk missiles could be just the start of a wider coordinated series of strikes involving bomber and fighter missions.
However the Russians have bolstered Syrian air defences and in February an Israeli F-16 fighter jet crashed while fired on by Syrian defences so manned bombing missions are much riskier.
The Russians and many western commentators insist that Assad does not need to use chemical weapons as he clearly is set to finally win the seven year civil war that has claimed half a million lives.
But earlier on Friday, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations accused Assad of using chemical weapons over 50 times during the civil war.
“Russia can complain all it wants about fake news, but no one is buying its lies and its coverups,” she insisted. “Russia was supposed to guarantee Assad would not use chemical weapons, and Russia did the opposite.”
How Russia will respond to the joint military operation remains to be seen.