Syria, Russia Warn US Against Airstrikes in Syrian Space

Syria and Russia said on Thursday any foreign airstrikes against Islamist militants in Syria without a U.N. Security Council mandate would be an act of aggression, raising the possibility of a new confrontation with the West in the coming weeks.

“Any action of any type without the approval of Syrian government is an aggression against Syria,” Ali Haidar, Minister of National Reconciliation Affairs, told reporters in Damascus on Thursday, after the United States said it was prepared to strike against Islamic State militants in the country.

Haidar added: “There must be cooperation with Syria and coordination with Syria and there must be a Syrian approval of any action whether it is military or not.”

Foreign countries could use the Islamic State group simply as a pretext for attacking Syria, Haidar told reporters.

Security Council decision

In Russia, Alexander Lukashevich, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said, “The U.S. president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the U.S. armed forces against ISIL positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government.

“This step, in the absence of a U.N. Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law,” Lukashevich said.

Obama said on Wednesday he had authorized U.S. airstrikes for the first time in Syria and more attacks in Iraq, in an escalation of the campaign against the Islamic State militant group, which has taken control of large areas of both countries.

Western states have ruled out working with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying he has indirectly helped the Islamic State group grow in order to weaken other opposition groups.

Obama, who is due to host a leaders’ security conference at the U.N. General Assembly in two weeks’ time, made no mention of seeking an international mandate for action in Syria.

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, has given Assad crucial backing in Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 200,000 people.

It has provided arms and blocked Western- and Arab-backed efforts to adopt Security Council resolutions condemning him or threatening him with sanctions.

Russia has repeatedly argued that it does not believe the Syrian opposition can fill the void that would be left by Assad’s departure, warning the country would fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Lukashevich said Moscow welcomed the fact that Washington had acknowledged the threat from the radical Islamists.

“Better late than never, as they say,” he said. But he accused the United States of “double standards” over its support for the opposition in Syria.

“While on the one hand helping the Iraq government to confront Islamist militants, Obama is once more asking Congress for $500 million to support the Syrian armed opposition, which, as a whole, is little different from the radicals in the Islamic State,” Lukashevich told the French news agency AFP.

Sovereignty to be respected

Meanwhile, China responded cautiously on Thursday to Obama’s plan to defeat the Islamic State group, saying the world should fight terror but that the sovereignty of countries must be respected.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the world was facing a terror threat that was a “new challenge” to international cooperation.

“China opposes all forms of terrorism, and upholds that the international community must jointly cooperate to strike against terrorism, including supporting efforts by relevant countries to maintain domestic security and stability,” Hua told a daily news briefing when asked about Obama’s comments.

“At the same time, we also uphold that in the international fight against terrorism, international law should be respected and the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of relevant nations should also be respected,” she added.

China has repeatedly expressed concern about the upsurge in violence in Iraq and the march of Islamic State, but it has also opposed any outside military intervention in Syria.

France, a key ally for the United States in the planned coalition, said on Wednesday it was ready to take part in airstrikes in Iraq, but said its involvement in any military action in Syria would need to have international law behind it.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Iraqi government has asked for help internationally, but in Syria the legal basis would have to be established first.

French officials have said that would come either through a Security Council resolution or under Article 51 of the U.N. charter, allowing for protection of threatened populations.

“The Russians aren’t beholden to Assad,” said a senior French diplomat.

“It’s in their interest as much as ours to fight terrorism so we can hopefully find some pragmatic and objective ways to resolve our differences and find a way to agree.”     

No, to airstrikes in Syria

Britain’s foreign secretary also said that his country won’t participate in airstrikes on Syria, following an announcement from Washington that it would begin hitting targets inside the country.

Speaking Thursday after talks with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Philip Hammond said Britain won’t be “revisiting” the issue after Parliament decided last year against participating in airstrikes.

Germany often shuns taking part in combat operations and Steinmeier said his country also wouldn’t join in any airstrikes.

Even though Tehran has not been invited to join the international coalition against the Islamic State group, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, whose country is a staunch ally of Assad, said on Thursday that regional and international cooperation will be vital. 

Rouhani spoke on an official visit to Tajikistan.

Some materials for this report came from Reuters, AFP and AP.

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