Site of chemical attack in Syria hit again

DAMASCUS, Syria — New airstrikes targeted a town in Syria that was hit by a chemical attack earlier this week, activists said, less than a day after the U.S. bombarded a Syrian air base to “send a message” to the Assad regime.

It wasn’t immediately clear who conducted the strikes on Khan Sheikhoun, which was hit on Friday and Saturday, though only Russian and Syrian regime aircraft have been bombing that area of rebel-held Idlib province.

The latest attacks follow a missile strike early Friday by the United States on a base in western Syria that the U.S. says was used to launch Tuesday’s chemical attack, which left more than 85 people dead and hundreds more injured.

The new strikes came as Russia, the Syrian regime’s main ally, sent a frigate armed with cruise missiles to a port in western Syria in an apparent show of force in response to the US action.

At least one woman was killed and three other people injured in Saturday’s strikes in Khan Sheikhoun, two activists in the town said. The strike that killed the woman happened in a residential neighborhood, activist Alaa Al-Youssef said.

It wasn’t clear where the strikes were launched from, but the Syrian air force resumed flight operations at the base that the U.S. had struck Friday, two pro-regime media outlets and an opposition group said Saturday.

A video on Instagram, posted Saturday by a reporter from the state-run Russia-24 outlet, purports to show a jet rolling down a tarmac at the air base. The caption reads: “Return to work at Shayrat.”

A U.S. defense official said Friday’s strikes were not intended to damage runways or fully disable the base. Instead, the strikes hit aircraft, fuel storage, weapons dumps and other equipment, aiming to send a message to the Syrian regime that any use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated, the official said.

In the aftermath of the US strike, Russia pledged to help strengthen Syria’s air defenses. Russian state media reported that a frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich, would call at a logistics base at Tartus, Syria. It had earlier picked up supplies at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.

NATO called it one of the largest deployments from Russia in decades.

Retired US Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling said the frigate appeared to be a show of force by Russia, which since late 2015 has been conducting airstrikes in Syria against forces opposing the Syrian regime.

“I think the Russians were caught off guard (by the US strikes),” Hertling said. “So they want to make sure they’re tracking those (U.S.) ships.”

A U.S.-led coalition also has long been conducting airstrikes in Syria, against ISIS targets in the country.

On Saturday, a suspected coalition strike killed at least 15 civilians in north-central Syria near Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS, a local activist group and the state-run SANA news outlet said