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Russia warns it will 'treat US planes as targets' after jet shot down

The US military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet yesterday, in a new escalation of the conflict.

A US Super Hornet
A US Super Hornet
Image: PA WIRE

RUSSIA’S DEFENCE MINISTRY has said it will treat US-led coalition planes in Syria, west of the Euphrates River, as targets after the US military shot down a Syrian Air Force jet yesterday.

Moscow has condemned the US downing of the Syrian government fighter jet after it dropped bombs near American partner forces.

The Russian defence ministry said in a statement that, starting today, it will track all jets and drones of the US-led coalition west of the Euphrates and treat them as targets.

The ministry also called on the US military to provide a full account of why it decided to shoot down the Syrian SU-22.

Russia, a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has been providing air cover to the government’s offensive on the Islamic State group since 2015.

Yesterday’s downing of the Syrian plane represents a new escalation between the United States and regime forces. It’s the first time an American fighter has targeted a Syrian craft accused by Washington of attacking US-backed fighters.

The incident further complicates the country’s six-year war and comes as a US-led coalition and allied fighters battle to oust the Islamic State group from its Syrian bastion of Raqa.

Government ally Iran also launched missiles from its territory against alleged IS positions in eastern Syria for the first time yesterday, in response to an IS-claimed attack in Tehran.

The Syrian jet was shot down yesterday evening after regime forces engaged fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance battling with US support against IS, in an area close to Raqa.

The American F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down the Syrian SU-22 at around 7pm (local time) as it “dropped bombs near SDF fighters” south of the town of Tabqa, the coalition said in a statement.

It said that several hours earlier, regime forces had attacked the SDF in another town near Tabqa, wounding several and driving the SDF from the town.

The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces”.

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Syria’s army disputed the account, saying its plane was hit while “conducting a mission against the terrorist Islamic State group”.

Moscow’s initial response also condemned the US action, with deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov asking, “What is this if not an act of aggression?”.

In its statement today, Moscow accused the US of failing to use the established communication hotline to warn Russia about the downing of the plane.

“The command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace,” the defence ministry said.

As a result, it now “ends cooperation with the American side from June 19 based on a memorandum for prevention of incidents and ensuring safety of air flights during operations in Syria, and demands a careful investigation by the US command” of the downing.

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 defences on and above ground.

- Reporting from AFP and Associated Press 

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Daragh Brophy

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