(Reuters) The United States fired cruise missiles on Friday at a Syrian airbase from which President Donald Trump said a deadly chemical weapons attack had been launched, the first direct U.S. assault on the government of Bashar al-Assad in six years of civil war.

In the biggest foreign policy decision of his presidency so far, Trump ordered the step his predecessor Barack Obama never took: directly targeting the Syrian military for its suspected role in a poison gas attack that killed at least 70 people

That catapulted Washington into confrontation with Russia, which has military advisers on the ground aiding its ally, President Assad. The Kremlin denounced the strikes as illegal.

"Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically," Trump said as he announced the attack from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack," he said of Tuesday's chemical weapons strike, which Western countries blame on Assad's forces. "No child of God should ever suffer such horror."

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