US launches air attack on Syria

US forces have fired more than 50 tomahawk missiles against targets in Syria following the deadly chemical attack on civilians on Tuesday.

The missile attack was carried out on President Donald Trump's orders and at least four people at a Syrian airbase have been killed. It is the first US military action against the Syrian Government in the six-year-old war.

US launches air attack on Syria

8:15pm: Russia has announced it is suspending an agreement aimed at preventing military conflict and mid-air collisions between US and Russian forces in Syrian airspace.

The Russian foreign ministry said the memorandum had been drawn up after Russia launched its air campaign in 2015.

The two sides had agreed to share information about their flights.

8:00pm: Russia says that US cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base have destroyed any prospective anti-terror alliance.

Konstantin Kosachev, head of Russia's foreign affairs committee, said any US-Russian anti-terror coalition has been "put to rest without even being born."

"Russian cruise missiles strike the terrorists, US missiles strike Syrian government forces who are spearheading the fight against the terrorists," he said.

7:00pm: Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that US cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base broke international law and have seriously hurt US-Russia relations, news agencies cited the Kremlin as saying.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying that the Russian leader, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, regarded the US action as "aggression against a sovereign nation" on a "made-up pretext" and as a cynical attempt to distract the world from civilian deaths in Iraq.

Mr Peskov was quoted as saying that Russia did not believe that Syria possessed chemical weapons and that the US move would inevitably create a serious obstacle to creating an international coalition to fight terrorism, an idea that Mr Putin has repeatedly pushed.

6:30pm: Governor of Homs province Talal Barazi says there have been deaths as a result of the strikes - but provided no further details.

"There are martyrs, but we don’t yet know the number either of martyrs or of wounded," Talal Barazi told AFP.

The tomahawk missiles were launched by two US Naval ships in the eastern Mediterranean sea.

CNN has reported the missiles were fired at 3.45am local time (12:45pm NZ time), and that the targets included runways, aircraft and fuel depots.

Donald Trump spoke to reporters and said Assad used deadly nerve gas to kill many Syrians.

Trump said he ordered a "targeted military strike" on the airfield from which the chemical weapons attack was launched.

These strikes were, Trump said, in the "vital national security interest" of the US.

He said he was calling on all "civilised nations" to stop the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria.

US warned Russia it would attack Syria

NBC has reported that US officials informed their Russian counterparts before the attack.

No Russian assets in Syria were targeted, according to NBC.

New Zealand responds

Foreign Minister Murray McCully has released this statement on the strikes:

“It is becoming clear that Syrian government forces were responsible for the outrageous attacks where chemical weapons were used.

“These events are horrific. It is critical that the international community emphatically demand an end to this violence, and that the Syrian government be held to account.

“In the absence of an adequate response from the United Nations Security Council, we can understand why the United States has taken targeted unilateral action to try and prevent further such attacks by the Syrian regime.”  

Donald Trump had previously been against military action in Syria, tweeting in 2013:

"President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your "powder" for another (and more important) day!"

Here is the full statement by the Pentagon on the Syria strikes:

"At the direction of the president, US forces conducted a cruise missile strike against a Syrian Air Force airfield today at about 8:40pm EDT (4:40am, April 7, in Syria).  

"The strike targeted Shayrat Airfield in Homs governorate, and were in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack April 4 in Khan Sheikhoun, which killed and injured hundreds of innocent Syrian people, including women and children.

"The strike was conducted using Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.  A total of 59 TLAMs targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.  

"As always, the US took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict. Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.

"The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The US intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4.  The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.

"Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. US military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.

"We are assessing the results of the strike. Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons.  

"The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated".