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Russia says Israeli war planes carried out strike on Syrian air base

Strike comes after Trump warning in the wake of gas attack on rebel-held town

AMMAN The Russian and Syrian military yesterday said Israeli war planes carried out missile strikes on a Syrian air base, hours after US President Donald Trump warned of a "big price to pay" following reports of a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town.

Syrian state TV initially said the US was suspected of carrying out a missile attack on the T-4 airfield near Homs, after harsh words by Mr Trump over the reported chemical attack on Saturday in the town of Douma which killed dozens of people.

The US denied attacking the Syrian base, and France also said its forces had not carried it out.

The Russian military, whose forces are supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said two Israeli F-15 war planes had carried out the strikes on the Syrian air base, the Interfax news agency reported.

Interfax cited the Russian Defence Ministry as saying the Israeli war planes had carried out the strikes from Lebanese air space, and that Syrian air defence systems had shot down five of eight missiles fired.

Syrian state media, citing a military source, then carried a similar report.

"The Israeli aggression on the T4 airport was carried out with F-15 planes that fired several missiles from above Lebanese land," state news agency Sana said.

When asked earlier about the explosions from the air base, an Israeli spokesman declined to comment.

Israel has struck Syrian army locations many times in the course of the conflict, hitting convoys and bases of Iranian-backed militias that fight alongside Assad's forces.

Defence analysts say there are large deployments of Russian forces at the T-4 base and jets fly regular sorties from there to strike rebel-held areas.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitor, said at least 14 people were killed including some fighters of various nationalities, a reference to Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia members, mostly from Iraq, Lebanon and Iran fighting alongside the Syrian army.

The Syrian opposition had blamed government forces for Saturday's suspected chemical attack in Douma.

In response, Mr Trump took the rare step of directly criticising Russian President Vladimir Putin in connection with the incident.

Mr Trump said on Twitter on Sunday there would be a "big price to pay" after medical aid groups reported dozens of civilians, including many children and women, were killed by poison gas in the rebel-held town.

"Many dead, including women and children, in mindless chemical attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price to pay," he wrote.

The Syrian government denied its forces had launched any chemical assault, while Russia, Mr Assad's most powerful ally, called the reports fake and warned against military action on the basis of "invented and fabricated excuses".

The Syrian government launched an air and ground assault on Douma, the last rebel-held town in the eastern Ghouta district, on Friday.

The medical relief organisation Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the civil defence service, which operates in rebel-held areas, said in a joint statement 49 people had been killed in the suspected gas attack.

The US launched a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base a year ago in response to the killing of dozens of civilians in a sarin gas attack in an opposition-held town.

The gas attack was blamed on Mr Assad.

United Nations war crimes investigators had previously documented 33 chemical attacks in Syria, attributing 27 to the Assad government, which has repeatedly denied using the weapons. - REUTERS

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