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Russia: US move to control Syrian oil fields 'banditry'

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov (AP file photo)

Russia has slammed as "banditry" plans by the United States to deploy more forces in Syria, accusing the administration of President Donald Trump of seeking to seize the Arab country's oil resources under false pretexts.  

Trump and Pentagon chief Mark Esper confirmed Thursday that, while Washington was pulling some troops out of Syria following Turkey's military incursion into northern parts of the country, it was still sending in additional troops to ensure oil facilities in eastern Syria would not fall into the wrong hands.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said Saturday that Washington was basically moving in to take over the oil fields.

“What Washington is doing now, the seizure and control of oil fields in eastern Syria under its armed control, is, quite simply, international state banditry,” he said in a statement.

He said Syria's oil belonged to Syrians only, and not the Daesh terrorists or Washington.

“All hydrocarbon deposits and other minerals located on the territory of Syria do not belong to the IS terrorists, and even less to the ‘American defenders from IS terrorists,’ but exclusively to the Syrian Arab Republic,” Konashenkov added.

“The real cause of this illegal action by the United States in Syria lies far from the ideals that Washington has proclaimed and from the slogans of fighting terrorism,” Konashenkov said.

Earlier in the day, Konashenkov presented satellite imagery that he said showed the US has been smuggling Syrian oil to other countries under the protection of its troops before and after the defeat of Daesh.

Upon announcing his decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria on October 6, Trump said some 300 forces will remain in southern parts of the country.

Esper told a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels that the number would be bigger as “we are reinforcing our position” in Syria.

He said the new deployment “will include some mechanized forces,” suggesting that tanks and armored vehicle will be also deployed to the designated areas. He said the final number of troops won't go beyond 1,000.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the situation in Syria with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call on Saturday, urging Washington to avoid actions that stir more tension.

“From the Russian side, the necessity was emphasized of refraining from steps undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of that county,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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The US seems to have already started moving troops according to the new plan. On Saturday, a US convoy of over a dozen vehicles was spotted driving south of the northeastern city of Qamishli, likely heading to the oil-rich Dayr al-Zawr province.

According to the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based war monitor, the convoy arrived earlier from Iraq.

A large convoy of Syrian government troops was also spotted heading toward the M4 highway, in an extension of what is said to be the first deployment of Syrian armed forces to the country's northern parts since 2012.

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