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Russia Slams U.S. Strikes, Warns 'New WMD Attacks Can be Expected'

WASHINGTON -- After the pre-dawn U.S. strike on a key airfield in Syria, Russia rushed to the defense of ally Bashar al-Assad while Syrian rebels warned that the United States must persist as civilians are in danger of retaliatory attacks from the Syrian leader.

Fifty-nine Tomahawks from two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean, the USS Ross and USS Porter, targeted Shayrat Airfield in Homs province at 4:40 a.m. local time. Defense officials reportedly used radar tracking to pinpoint the base as the originating location of the planes that dropped a neurotoxin on a town in Idlib province Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights bumped up the death toll in the Khan Shaykhun sarin attack to "at least" 86, including 30 children and 20 women; the toll was expected to rise given the gravity of injuries.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the missiles "targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars."

Defense officials informed Russia ahead of time about the planned airstrike time and location, citing their previous deconfliction agreement to improve flight safety after near-misses as the Russians flew missions with Assad forces against Assad's opposition and the U.S. flew missions against ISIS. "U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield," Davis said.

Russia's foreign ministry, arguing that Assad doesn't have chemical weapons, lashed out in a statement shortly after the strikes, calling it "not the first time that the U.S. chooses an irresponsible approach that aggravates problems the world is facing, and threatens international security."

Russia further warned America of "abetting international terrorism and making it stronger," ominously warning "new WMD attacks can be expected."

"It is obvious that the cruise missile attack was prepared in advance. Any expert understands that Washington’s decision on air strikes predates the Idlib events, which simply served as a pretext for a show of force," the statement added, also announcing the suspension of the memorandum of understanding on flight safety under which they received advanced notice of the strikes.

"It is regrettable that this is damaging Russian-U.S. relations, which are already in poor shape," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference in Uzbekistan today. "I hope these provocations will not produce irremediable results, although the media are citing joyful statements by former members of the Obama administration to the effect that Russian-U.S. cooperation looks utterly unrealistic after these strikes. I hope they will be brought to shame, although we will draw conclusions from this situation regarding the future of our relations with Washington."

"As for possible victims among Russian servicemen, I have no information on this issue," he added. "It appears that there were none."