Syria Wants End to Israel's 'Terrorizing' Strikes and Russia, Iran, Turkey Agree

Syria has demanded an end to Israeli airstrikes that it says endanger military and civilian life, and the influential international trio of Russia, Iran and Turkey agree.

Newsweek recently reported on the hazards associated with multiple countries operating in Syria's crowded airspaces, where military and civilian aircraft face increasing risks from the country's civil conflict, which reaches it's 10th anniversary next month.

Syria's permanent mission to the United Nations said Israel's semi-secret campaign of raids targeting suspected Iran-linked sites and Syrian air defense positions constitutes a violation of post-war bilateral arrangements between the two neighbors.

"The repeated Israeli attacks on the Syrian sovereignty are not only a technical issue related to the safety of civil air traffic in Syrian airspace," the mission told Newsweek, "but rather an act of aggression that violates the 1974 ceasefire agreement, threatening the security and safety of civilians and civil aviation."

The mission also saw Israel's aerial strategy as contrary to international law.

"These attacks also constitute a flagrant violation of the Chicago Conventions that guarantee the safety of civil aviation in the world, and a described hostile act condemned by the provisions of international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter," the mission told Newsweek. "Furthermore, such an aggression shows disdain to the Security Council resolutions related to the situation in Syria, which all affirm respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Syria."

These four principles were emphasized Friday during the latest trilateral meeting of Russia, Iran and Turkey. The three countries represent the guarantors of a platform for resolving Syria's conflict called the Astana process, named for the Kazakh capital, which has since been renamed Nur-Sultan.

In a joint statement, Moscow, Tehran and Ankara "condemned continuing Israeli military attacks in Syria in violation of the international law and international humanitarian law and undermining the sovereignty of Syria and neighboring countries as well as endangering the stability and security in the region and called for cessation of them."

syria, air, defenses, damascus, israel, strike
Syrian air defenses respond to Israeli missiles targeting south of the capital Damascus, on July 20, 2020. Israel has repeatedly struck targets said to be associated with Iran and its allied militias, as well as Syrian anti-air batteries operating in territory held by the government led by President Bashar al-Assad. AFP/Getty Images

The most recent round of Israeli attacks hit an air defense unit attached to Syria's 4th Armoured Division west of Damascus on Monday, a local source told Newsweek.

This account was backed by the pro-opposition United Kingdom-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist network, which further claimed that Iranian rocket depots were hit, killing up to 16 militiamen of non-Syrian nationality at two sites near the capital.

The Syrian mission said such attacks presented an unnecessary risk to civilians.

"The recent hostile and terrorizing acts by Israel were not the first of their kind," the Syrian mission said. "On several previous occasions, the Israeli Air Force has used civilian aircrafts for cover while attacking the Syrian territories, employing civilian passengers as human shields with sheer disregard for their feelings or lives."

The attacks roughly coincided with an Israeli air exercise called "Galilee Rose" that simulated war across the country's hostile northern borders with Syria and Lebanon, where a Hezbollah spokesperson for the Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement told Newsweek last month its fighters remained prepared for any aggressions.

"Naturally, any attack will not be tolerated, and Hezbollah is in a constant state of preparedness to respond to any attack on Lebanon," the Hezbollah official said at the time.

Israel has accused Iran of sending personnel and recruiting partnered groups such as Hezbollah other organizations as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan to set up forward operating bases and transfer advanced munitions to Syria.

"[The Syrian army] gives [Hezbollah] a lot of space to do what they want, and it makes life a bit uncomfortable," an Israeli security official dealing with Syria told Newsweek last month. "It's a big problem for us to actually decide who to strike and what to do."

Such forces operate in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, who has contended since 2011 with a rebel and jihadi rebellion. The United States has joined regional partners in accusing Assad of human rights abuses and sponsored efforts to oust the longtime leader before turning its attention to fighting the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

The U.S.-supported, mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces hold nearly a third of the country's territory across the northeast, while Turkey remains the last major opposition sponsor and backs insurgent elements opposed to the Pentagon-backed faction across the northern border.

However, the majority of the country, in both territory and population, remain under the central government's control, thanks to years of counteroffensives backed by Russia and Iran. While Moscow and Tehran have joined Ankara in the Astana process, Washington and its shifting goals in the conflict have remained largely on the diplomatic sidelines.

But on the ground, an estimated 900 U.S. troops remain across the northeast, where they were tasked by former President Donald Trump with maintaining control of oil and gas sites following the defeat of ISIS' physical, self-styled caliphate—a campaign also pursued separately by the pro-government axis.

israel, idf, air, exercises, border
An Israeli F-35 takes off during the Galilee Rose exercises held mid-February near the northern border. "The exercise has improved the Air Force's readiness to fight in the northern theater of operations through effective training and drills that have lasted for the past three days," IDF Major General Amikam Norkin said. "We will continue to defend our country's skies, while preserving the superiority of the Air Force in the region." Israel Defense Forces

Russia, Iran and Turkey's joint statement Friday also addressed U.S. operations here, saying the three nations "rejected all attempts to create new realities on the ground, including illegitimate self-rule initiatives, under the pretext of combating terrorism, and expressed their determination to stand against separatist agendas in the east of Euphrates aimed at undermining the unity of Syria as well as threatening the national security of neighboring countries."

Additionally, they "expressed concern, in this regard, with the increasing hostilities against civilians, and "reaffirmed their opposition to the illegal seizure and transfer of oil revenues that should belong to the Syrian Arab Republic."

Russia and its allies operate in this northeast region as well. As a result, the U.S. maintains a line of deconfliction with Russia to avoid incidents in this stretch of the country.

But the U.S. rarely discusses Israeli operations in the country. A Pentagon spokesperson told Newsweek last week they would "decline to comment on the air space over Western Syria."

Despite being on opposite sides of the Syrian conflict, Israel maintains a deconfliction line with Russia.

"We do indeed have a deconfliction mechanism with the Russian military which facilitates our freedom of action while minimizing risk of friction with Russian troops, and promotes mutual safety," an Israeli military official told Newsweek last week. "So far, it has been very effective and withstood challenging circumstances in a very dense battle space."

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