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Russia suspends Syria flight safety deal with US after missile attack

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Image released by the US Air Force (USAF) shows an F-15E Strike Eagle. (Via AFP)

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 statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday.

It 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.

The announcements came after 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.

Russian Defense Ministry pledged to beef up Syrian air defenses following the attack. It also played down the effectiveness of the US raid, saying 23 missiles had hit their targets while it was unclear where 36 others had landed.

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 Foreign Ministry statement 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.”

This 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 northwestern 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.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that President Vladimir Putin would hold a meeting of his security council later on Friday to discuss the US missile strikes on Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the strikes reminded him of US attacks on Iraq in 2003, which had forgone UN approval, adding Moscow would demand an 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 spoke by phone with Lavrov, seeking “the Russian analysis or readout of what they thought had happened.” Tillerson is also to travel to Moscow for talks with senior Russian officials.

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 Khan Sheikhun incident on gas leaking from a militant chemical weapons depot.

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