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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Syria warns against US airstrikes

Published 25/08/2014 | 12:16

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Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem said his country would work with others to fight Islamic State militants (AP)

Syria's foreign minister has warned the US not to conduct airstrikes inside his country against the Islamic State group without Damascus consent.

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Walid al-Moallem said such an act "by anyone" without approval from President Bashar Assad's government would be a violation of Syrian sovereignty and considered an act of aggression.

But the top Syrian diplomat also said his country is ready to work with regional states and the international community in the war on terror amid the onslaught of Islamic militants.

Mr Al-Moallem's remarks are the first public comments by a senior Assad regime official on the threat posed by Islamic State, which has captured large areas of Iraqi and Syrian territory.

He denounced Islamic State's killing of US journalist James Foley.

"Syria is ready to cooperate and co-ordinate on the regional and international level in the war on terror," Mr al-Moallem said. "But any effort to combat terrorism should come in co-ordination with the Syrian government."

His comments follow the capture by jihadis of a major military air base in north-eastern Syria, eliminating the last government-held outpost in a province otherwise dominated by Islamic State.

The group has established a self-declared caliphate in areas straddling Iraq and Syria's shared borders. The United States began airstrikes against the group in northern Iraq earlier this month, and is now considering similar strikes against the militants in Syria.

The administration remains wary of getting dragged into the bloody and complex Syrian civil war that the United Nations says has killed more than 190,000 people.

Mr Al-Moallem said his government is ready to cooperate with any side, including the US, or join any regional or international alliance against the Islamic State group.

But he said any military action inside Syria should be co-ordinated with the government, "which represents Syrian sovereignty".

"Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression," he said.

Mr Al-Moallem added that airstrikes alone will not be enough to eliminate al-Qaida-linked groups such as Islamic State and the Nusra Front. He called for "drying up" their resources, including cutting off funding and arming by regional state actors and private donations.

The minister also denounced "in the strongest terms possible" the killing of Mr Foley.

"We condemn the killing of Foley, but may I ask has the West ever condemned the massacres by the Islamic State and Nusra against our armed forces or citizens?" he asked.

He also welcomed the release of US freelance reporter Peter Theo Curtus, who had been held hostage for nearly two years by the Nusra Front.

He slammed the oil-rich nation of Qatar, which said it has "exerted relentless efforts" to win his freedom.

"Don't these efforts constitute proof that they (Qataris) are linked to the Nusra terrorist organisation?" he asked.

Qatar is a leading supporter of the Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad and has been involved in mediating past hostage releases. The country's foreign minister said on Saturday that Qatar "does not support extremist groups", including Islamic State, in any way.

Press Association

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