Syria warns against foreign military action

After Obama speech, Assad regime and Russia warn against aggression; Arab nations vow to help fight Islamic State

A Syrian government minister warned on Thursday that any foreign intervention in his country would be considered an act of aggression unless it is approved by Damascus, after the United States said it was prepared to strike against Islamic State fighters in Syria.

Syria has repeatedly warned that any action on its soil needs its approval, but has also said it is willing to work with any country to tackle Islamic State fighters who have captured large areas in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

"Any action of any type without the approval of Syrian government is an aggression against Syria," Ali Haidar, minister of national reconciliation affairs, told reporters in Damascus ahead of a meeting with new international peace mediator Staffan de Mistura.

"There must be cooperation with Syria and coordination with Syria and there must be a Syrian approval of any action whether it is military or not," Haidar said.

Damascus alleges that foreign countries could use the Islamic State threat as a pretext for attacking the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. It is not clear, however, what retaliatory actions Damascus could realistically take against a prospective U.S.-led coalition if it enters Syrian airspace.

The comments from Syria came the same day a group consisting of the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and the U.S. agreed to “stand united against the threat posed by all terrorism” — specifically naming Islamic State.

In a communiqué, those countries “agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight against [Islamic State],” including stopping the flow of foreign fighters, countering the group’s financing, contributing to humanitarian efforts, “and, as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign against” Islamic State.

On Wednesday Obama authorized airstrikes against Islamic State targets inside Syria for the first time, pledging to destroy its fighters "wherever they exist." He had previously said the U.S. would act through a coalition — presumed to include regional and NATO allies — but on Wednesday did not name names, and it was not immediately clear what role each ally would play.

On Thursday the foreign minister of Germany said his country would not be taking part in airstrikes in Syria, while British Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said the United Kingdom was not ruling out military action against Islamic State.

Obama on Wednesday had also announced an expansion of strikes in Iraq, saying he would be dispatching nearly 500 more U.S. troops to the country to assist its besieged security forces. He said the U.S. would work with Kurdish and Iraqi ground troops to take over land that had been cleared by airstrikes.

In order to build up a viable partner on the ground in Syria, Obama has called on Congress to authorize a program to train and arm vetted "moderate" rebels who are fighting both the Islamic State and Assad’s forces in Syria. 

Syria's main Western-backed opposition group welcomed Obama's decision, while repeating its demand that Assad must go.

"The Syrian Coalition ... stands ready and willing to partner with the international community not only to defeat [the Islamic State] but also rid the Syrian people of the tyranny of the Assad regime," said Hadi al-Bahra, head of the coalition.

Based on comments Wednesday from unnamed senior White House officials, Saudi Arabia had been expected to announce it would host training camps for Syrian rebels. But Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal on Thursday denied that was the case.

When queried about why Riyadh had contradicted Washington officials, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that consultations were "ongoing," but that the "Saudis did announce their willingness to host a training camp for the Syrian opposition."

Meanwhile, Russia — the Assad regime's most important backer — came to its ally's defense Thursday by saying that unilateral U.S. strikes in Syria would be a “crude violation” of international law.

"The U.S. president has directly announced the possibility of strikes by American armed forces against positions of the Islamic State in Syria without the consent of its legal government," said Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry.

"In the absence of an appropriate decision of the U.N. Security Council, such a step would become an act of aggression, a crude violation of the norms of international law," he said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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