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US shoots down Syria plane, Russia threatens retaliation

The American military shot down a Syrian combat jet for the first time and Russia announced, in retaliation, that it will treat “all flying objects” from the US-led coalition as “targets”.

world Updated: Jun 20, 2017 07:26 IST
Yashwant Raj
Syrian Air Force
US Navy photo from October 2016 shows an F-18E Super Hornet launching from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower in the Gulf. A US F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian regime plane on June 18, 2017, after it dropped bombs on US-backed forces fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria.(AFP)

Tensions are escalating in Syria after the American military shot down a Syrian combat jet for the first time and Russia announced, in retaliation, that it will treat “all flying objects” from the US-led coalition as “targets” in some parts of the strife-torn West Asian nation.

Moscow has said it is suspending a military hotline — called the “deconfliction line” — established with the US in 2015, weeks after Russia entered Syria in support of the government of Bashar al-Assad, its strongest ally in the region. The hotline was set up to avoid in-air collisions.

This is the second time Moscow suspended the hotline in recent months. The first was in March and it followed punitive missile strikes ordered by US President Donald Trump on a airbase used by the Syrian Air Force to carry out an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held city.

Adding to the new escalation of hostilities in the region was a statement from Tehran that it had launched multiple missiles against Islamic State-held positions in eastern Syria in retaliation for the terrorist attacks carried out by the group on Iran’s parliament and a Shia shrine on June 7 in which 16 people were killed.

The Russian announcements came in response to the downing of the Syrian Air Force plane, which was the first time for the US after it began fighting the IS in Syria, leading a coalition of international forces, in 2014.

“All flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, detected west of the Euphrates, will be followed by Russian air defence systems as targets,” the Russian defence ministry said in a statement in Moscow.

It added: “The US' repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism' against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-state are a flagrant violation of international law, in addition to being actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.”

The US-led Operation Inherent Resolve, as it is called, said on Sunday that its aircraft first conducted a show of force in support of fighters of the rebel Syrian Democratic Force (SDF), which had come under attack from Syrian government forces earlier in the day in Ja'Din town, south of Tabqah.

Using the “deconfliction line”, the US asked Russia to “de-escalate the situation and stop the firing”.

Later on Sunday evening, a Syrian Air Force plane, a Russian-made Su-22, dropped bombs near SDF fighters in Tabqah and, the coalition said, “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces, (the Syrian plane) was immediately shot down by a US F/A-18E Super Hornet”.