Russia has warned that it will consider U.S.-led coalition aircraft in Syria “aerial targets” after a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian Air Force plane.
The threat from the Russian Defense Ministry, issued on June 19, stopped short of saying U.S. or other allied jets would be shot down but still represented a sharp increase in tensions.
The coalition said it contacted Russian counterparts via a special telephone line “to deescalate the situation and stop the firing.”
“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 statement said.
The Pentagon said that the Syrian fighter bomber was engaged by a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet jet.
The Russian ministry, however, denied that the United States had used the channel before the Syrian Su-22 bomber was downed. It said it was also suspending interaction with the United States on preventing air incidents over Syria.
“Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates River will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defenses on and above ground,” the Defense Ministry said in its statement.
A Syrian Army statement said the “flagrant attack” was aimed at undermining “the efforts of the army as the only effective force capable with its allies…in fighting terrorism across its territory.”
“This comes at a time when the Syrian Army and its allies were making clear advances in fighting the [IS] terrorist group,” it said, adding that the pilot was missing.
Meanwhile, Russian news agencies quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on June 19 that the United States should respect Syria’s territorial integrity and refrain from unilateral actions in this country.
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The RAAF has halted air operations over Syria amid rising tensions with Russia, after the United States shot down a Syrian regime fighter jet. Defence said in a statement that operations had ceased temporarily as a “precautionary measure” and a decision on resuming air strikes would be made “in due course”. Operations in Iraq will continue.
The move follows Russia’s declaration that it may view US planes flying in its own area of operations as targets. Tensions have risen rapidly since the US shot down a Syrian regime jet on Sunday near al-Raqqa, the heartland of the so-called Islamic State. The Syrian fighter had been bombing too close to US-backed fighters.
That triggered the bellicose response from Russia, which supports the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The development is highly significant as it is the first time Russian and Syrian activities have seriously impinged on the Australian and coalition campaign against the so-called Islamic State.
After the US Navy plane shot down the Syrian fighter on Sunday, Russia’s defence ministry said it would cut off the “deconfliction” communication channel with the US, which stops the two countries’ air forces inadvertently crossing paths.
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