Australia suspends airstrikes in Syria after downed jet by U.S.-led forces
Australia on Tuesday suspended its airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria as a precaution, after a U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane earlier this week and Russia warned the U.S.-led coalition from flying over Syrian army positions west of the Euphrates River.
The announcement from Canberra came as a brief, two-day truce collapsed in the southern Syrian city of Dara and nearby areas where government forces have gained ground.
Australia is part of a U.S.-led coalition that has been waging war against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
The U.S. military shot down the Syrian warplane on Sunday, saying it had targeted an American-allied, Kurdish-led force that is battling the Islamic State extremists in their de facto capital, Raqqah. That led Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, to warn that it would target U.S.-led coalition planes flying west of the Euphrates River.
In another first, Iran — another close Assad ally — fired ballistic missiles at Islamic State targets in eastern Syria, in the province of Deir el-Zour, later on Sunday. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard described the strike as revenge for Islamic State attacks on Tehran earlier this month that killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 50.
With the skies over Syria growing increasingly crowded, a statement from the Australian Defense Department released in the capital, Canberra, said that “Australian Defense Force protection is regularly reviewed in response to a range of potential threats.”
Australia has six fighter jets based in the United Arab Emirates that strike targets in Syria and Iraq.
On Monday, a day after the downing of the Syrian plane, Russia threatened aircraft from the U.S.-led coalition in Syrian-controlled airspace and suspended a hotline intended to avoid collisions in retaliation for the downing.
A spokesman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Gen. Ramazan Sharif, said all six ballistic missiles it launched on Syria hit their targets, according to “local sources and drone films.”
Sharif told the Associated Press that the missile launch reflected Iran’s “military power,” though Iran has no intention of starting another war.
The remarks came amid questions whether the strike had been effective. It was not known what exactly was hit and Iran has provided no details. Israeli security officials said Monday they were studying the missile strike to see what they could learn about its accuracy and capabilities.
In the Syrian capital, Damascus, rebels fired artillery shells from the suburbs into the city, wounding at least three people, according to the state news agency SANA.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the eastern neighborhood of Jobar was struck on Tuesday by 12 airstrikes, adding that government forces are trying to push into the area.
Fighting and bombardment also resumed early Tuesday in the contested city of Dara and nearby areas where a 48-hour truce went into effect on Saturday. The truce was meant to have been extended but now appears to have collapsed.
A Syrian military official in Damascus said the truce was not extended. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
“The situation is back as it was in Dara city and fighting is ongoing,” said Dara-based opposition activist Ahmad Masalmeh. “The regime made the truce and then violated it.”
The Observatory also reported that government troops had captured a hill west of the city and a former army base that was held by rebels. It said government helicopters dropped 55 barrel bombs on Dara while warplanes carried out about 20 airstrikes.
Dara is where Syria’s crisis first broke out in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad’s government. The crisis quickly became a civil war, which has since left at least 400,000 people dead.
The push by the Syrian government forces in the Dara area appears headed for the Jordanian border, two weeks after Assad’s troops reached the border with Iraq for the first time in years.
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