Southern EU leaders say US strike on Syria 'understandable'

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy (centre) marshalls his fellow southern European leaders into posing for a group photo at the Palacio del Pardo, near Madrid, on April 10, 2017

The leaders of southern EU nations said Monday that a US missile strike on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack was "understandable," as diplomatic tensions mount over the incident.

"The strike launched by the United States on Shayrat Airfield in Syria had the understandable intention to prevent and deter the spread and use of chemical weapons and was limited and focused on this objective," they said in a joint statement after a summit in Madrid.

Last week's suspected attack on a rebel-held Syrian town killed at least 87 civilians, including many children.

In their statement, the southern EU leaders -- including Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and French President Francois Hollande -- condemned "in the strongest terms the air strike with chemical weapons".

"The repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria, both by the (Bashar al-) Assad regime since 2013 and by Daesh (Islamic State group) constitute war crimes," they added.

News of the April 4 tragedy provoked strong condemnation, including from Washington.

US President Donald Trump said the alleged attack "crosses many, many lines".

On Thursday, he ordered a massive military strike against Syria in retaliation for the attack that Washington said involved a sarin-like nerve agent.

The United States has also taken a hard line with Russia, which supports the Assad regime.

While stopping short of accusing the Russians of complicity, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has accused Moscow of being "incompetent" in failing to prevent it, and possibly "outmanoeuvred" by the Syrian regime.