Syria warns US: No unilateral strikes on militants

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BEIRUT (AP) — Syria said Monday it was ready to help confront the rising threat from the Islamic State group, but warned the United States against carrying out airstrikes without Damascus’ consent, saying any such attack would be considered an aggression.

Syria seemed intent on capitalizing on the growing clamor among some U.S. officials, including military leaders, to expand the current American air campaign against the extremist rebels in Iraq and to hit them in Syria as well.

President Barack Obama has long been wary of getting dragged into the bloody and complex Syrian civil war. But the extremist group’s rampage across wide swaths of Iraq, declaration of a state governed by their harsh interpretation of Islamic law in territory spanning the Iraq-Syria border, and grisly beheading of an American journalist, have injected a new dynamic into those calculations. Now, Obama faces pressure from his own military leaders to go after the extremists inside Syria.

On Monday, a senior administration official said Obama authorized surveillance flights over Syria, a move that could pave the way for U.S. airstrikes.

Speaking in Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem appeared acutely aware of how much has changed since last August, when the U.S. was threatening to carry out punitive airstrikes against Syrian army fighting west backed rebels. Since then, global disapproval has shifted away from Assad government and toward the Islamic extremists who are fighting it and spreading destruction across Syria and Iraq.

“Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression,” he said.

He said Damascus has warned repeatedly of the threat of terrorism and the need to cut off resources and funding, but “no one listened to us.” Syria’s government has long described the rebels fighting to topple Assad as “terrorists” in a foreign conspiracy.

The breakaway al-Qaida group is the most powerful faction fighting Assad’s forces, which means a U.S. campaign to weaken the Islamic State extremists could actually strengthen a leader the White House has sought to push from office. Obama could try to counteract that awkward dynamic by also targeting Assad’s forces, though that could drag the U.S. into the bloody, complex conflict — something he has studiously tried to avoid.

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