Russia suspends Syria flight safety deal with US after missile attack

Russia suspends Syria flight safety deal with US after missile attack


Moscow says it is halting an agreement with Washington aimed at avoiding mid-air collisions during their military missions in the Syrian airspace after US launched a missile attack against a Syrian army airbase.

“The Russian side is halting the effect of the memorandum for prevention of incidents and ensuring safety of air flights during operations in Syria which was agreed with the US,” said a Friday statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry, Reuters reported.

The statement was referring to the 2015 agreement, under which Russia and the US agreed to exchange information on their flights in Syrian skies, where the two sides have been involved in separate military operations.

Russia has been lending the Syrian military air support in its counterterrorism battle since last September at Damascus’ request. The US and dozens of its allies have also been pounding what they call Daesh targets in the country since 2014.

Early on Friday, some 60 US Tomahawk missiles were fired from US warships deployed to the Mediterranean at the Shayrat airfield southeast of the western Syria city of Homs earlier in the day.

Washington ordered the assault after accusing Syria of carrying out a chemical attack against the town of Khan Sheikhun in the northwestern province of Idlib on Tuesday.

The Russian statement further said, “Obviously, the cruise missile attack was prepared beforehand. Any expert can tell that the decision to strike was made in Washington before the events in Idlib, which were used as a pretext for a demonstration.”

Picture taken on February 16, 2016 shows a general view of Russian fighter jets on the tarmac at the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia Province, in the northwestern of Syria. (By AFP)

It also slammed the presence of US troops on Syrian soil, which comes without the Syrian government’s approval, as “a gross, obvious and unwarranted violation of international law.”

“If before it was due to the task of combating terrorism, now there is a clear act of aggression against a sovereign Syria. US Actions taken today further destroy the Russian-American relations,” the statement read.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said the attack reminded him of Western attack on Iraq in 2003, which had forgone United Nations approval, adding Moscow would demand explanation from Washington on the assault.

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“This is an act of aggression, on an absolutely made-up pretext,” Lavrov told a news conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. “I hope this provocation will not lead to irreparable damage (to US-Russian ties).”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also spoke by phone to the Russian top diplomat, seeking “the Russian analysis or readout of what they thought had happened.”

Observers say the US attack threatens to irreversibly turn around the gains achieved on the ground towards realization of a political solution to the six-year-old foreign-backed militancy in Syria.

Moscow has blamed the alleged incident on gas leaking from a militant chemical weapons depot.

Tillerson is also to travel to Moscow for talks with senior Russian officials.

[This item is being updated.]


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