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Russia to Treat US Planes in Syria as 'Targets'

By VOA News June 19, 2017

Russia says it will now treat all U.S.-led coalition planes in the air over Syria, west of the Euphrates, as targets after an American fighter jet for the first time in the six-year conflict shot down a Syrian military plane.

In a statement Monday, the Russian military also said it is suspending use of a hotline that that was set up to prevent any accidental military engagement.

Despite the Russian statement, General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Washington that officials are trying to re-establish their link to prevent potentially deadly accidents and that the de-confliction efforts have worked well in the past.

"The Russian Federation has indicated that their purpose in Syria, like ours, is to defeat ISIS," Dunford told reporters. "And we'll see if that's true here in the coming hours, because all of our operations in and around Raqqa and southern Syria are designed specifically to get after ISIS. We have agreed in the past, that is we and the Russian Federation Pro-Regime Forces, that operations that the coalition were conducting in Syria were effectively degrading ISIS capability and will work to restore that de-confliction chain in the next few hours."

Earlier, the Russian military alleged that "the command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace." Moscow's reaction came a day after a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian plane for bombing U.S.-backed fighters battling Islamic State.

The U.S. described its attack as an act of "collective self-defense of Coalition-partnered forces."

It said the Coalition "does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend Coalition or partner forces from any threat."

The Pentagon said Sunday a Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs on Coalition-partnered fighters near the town of Tabqah.

A U.S. Super Hornet immediately responded and shot down the Syrian plane. There is no word on the pilot or any other casualties.

"What is this, if not an act of aggression?" Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

Frants Klintsevich, deputy head of the defense committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, said the defense ministry statement does not mean there will be war with the U.S. in Syria, but rather that Moscow will not accept attacks on its Syrian allies.

Earlier, Syrian forces attacked Coalition fighters in Ja'Din, wounding a number of fighters and driving them from the town. Coalition aircraft stopped the pro-regime forces from advancing on Ja'Din.

The Coalition said it contacted Russian commanders to set up a "de-confliction line" to prevent the fighting from worsening.

The dispute over the Syrian attack on the U.S.-backed fighters and the American response came as Iran launched ballistic missiles at Islamic State strongholds in eastern Syria in retaliation for a pair of attacks by extremists in Tehran earlier this month that killed 17 people.



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