Friday 26 May 2017

Russia says US air strikes in Syria came 'within an inch' of sparking military conflict, as US says it is 'prepared to do more'

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik. Via AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik. Via AP

Tom Batchelor

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said the US air strike on a Syrian air base came “within an inch” of militarily clashing with their forces.

He said the action taken by the Americans was in breach of international law and their own internal procedures, and accused Washington of “barely avoiding combat clashes with Russia”.

In a post on Facebook, Mr Medvedev said the air strike had "completely ruined relations" between the two superpowers.

However, the US says it warned Russia one hour before it fired 59 tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat air base.

Satellite imagery suggests the base that was struck is home to Russian special forces and military helicopters, part of the Kremlin's effort to help the Syrian government fight Islamic State and other militant groups.

No Russian personnel were caught up in the strike.

Syrian state media has claimed that a US missile attack on a government air base has killed seven people, including four children.

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said the strike deliberately avoided sections of the base where the Russians were believed to be present.

Briefing reporters on the operation, he said the US military had "multiple" conversations with Russian forces on Thursday before the strike, using a line of communication that had previously been established to prevent an accidental clash in Syria during the fight against Isis.

On Friday senior US officials said Russia has not suspended a military communications channel meant to help US and Russian forces to avoid inadvertent clashes in Syria.

The senior US military officials, who spoke to Pentagon reporters on condition of anonymity, also said US military operations against Islamic State in Syria were unchanged following the cruise missile strike.

The officials said there had been no retaliatory action by Syria or Russia taken against American forces in Syria since the strikes against the Syrian airbase.

Meanwhile, a visit to Moscow by US. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on the agenda for the coming week, Interfax news agency cited a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman as saying on Friday.

Maria Zakharova said the ministry expected Tillerson to explain Washington's stance in light of the US missile strike on Syria.

"Let him come (to Moscow) and tell what strange things they did", she said, according to Interfax.

The White House has said that the attacks sent a "strong signal to the rest of the world". They were "decisive, justified and proportional" a spokesperson said.

The United States took a very measured step that was "fully justified", said UN Ambassador Nikki Haley on Friday.

"We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary," she told the U.N. Security Council.

"The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons."

Independent News Service

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