Syria’s Foreign Minister warned the US not to conduct airstrikes against the group inside Syria without Damascus’ consent on Monday, saying any such attack against Islamic militants in the country would be considered an act of aggression.
Walid al-Moallem’s words appeared timed to try to pre-empt any US military action in Syria. President Barack Obama has resisted ordering US military action in Syria for three years, even after a deadly chemical weapons attack a year ago near Damascus he blamed on President Bashar al-Assad’s government. But now, Mr Obama faces pressure from his own military leaders to go after the Islamic State group inside Syria.
Mr Obama remains wary, however, of getting dragged into the bloody and complex Syrian civil war that the United Nations says has killed more than 190,000 people.
Mr Moallem’s remarks at a news conference in Damascus also marked the first public comments by a senior Assad official on the threat posed by the Islamic State group, which has captured large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory.
“Syria is ready to co-operate and co-ordinate on the regional and international level in the war on terror,” Mr Moallem said. “But any effort to combat terrorism should be co-ordinated with the Syrian government.”
Mr Moallem appeared keenly aware of how much has changed in the past year as he spoke on Monday. Since then, global disapproval has shifted away from Assad and toward the Islamic extremists who are fighting him.
The Foreign Minister said the Syrian government has repeatedly warned of the threat of terrorism but “no one listened to us.” Syria’s government has long described the rebels fighting to topple Assad as “terrorists”.
There is not much Syria can do, however, if the US does decide to strike. US officials revealed last week that its forces had tried to rescue US journalist James Foley in a failed operation in Raqqa in July. “Had there been prior co-ordination that operation would not have failed,” Mr Moallem said.
The minister also denounced “in the strongest terms possible” James Foley’s killing last week by Isis, while asking: “Has the West ever condemned the massacres by Isis and Nusra against our armed forces or citizens?”
Mr Moallem’s news conference came a day after jihadists captured a major military air base in north-eastern Syria, eliminating the last government-held outpost in a province otherwise dominated by Isis. After several failed attempts, Isis fighters stormed the Tabqa air base on Sunday, killing dozens of troops inside.
Mr Moallem conceded defeat in Tabqa, saying that soldiers were withdrawn to nearby areas. Videos posted on militant websites on Monday showed celebrations in the nearby town of Tabqa, controlled by Isis.
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