Hezbollah condemns US-led strikes on Islamic State
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Hezbollah condemns US-led strikes on Islamic State

Shi’ite terrorist group accuses US of trying to take over region; Iran, Russia also decry campaign against Islamists

In this image made from video released by the U.S. Navy on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, missiles bound for Syrian Islamic State group targets are launched off of a U.S. Navy ship.  (AP Photo/U.S. Navy via AP video)
In this image made from video released by the U.S. Navy on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, missiles bound for Syrian Islamic State group targets are launched off of a U.S. Navy ship. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy via AP video)

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria’s key allies, Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, condemned the airstrikes by a US-led coalition on Islamic State fighters in Syria.

The Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group, which has dispatched fighters to Syria to bolster Assad’s forces, accused America of trying to control the Middle East.

“We are against an international coalition, whether it is against the regime … or whether it is against Daesh,” Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech. “This is an opportunity, pretext, for America to dominate the region again.”

Russia warned that the “unilateral” US airstrikes are destabilizing the region and urged Washington to secure either Damascus’s consent or UN Security Council support.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in New York that the US-led coalition’s airstrikes are illegal because they were not approved by or coordinated with Syria’s government.

Hezbollah's al-Manar TV shows Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah giving a televised address from an undisclosed location on June 6, 2014 (Photo credit: Al-Manar/AFP)
Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV shows Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah giving a televised address from an undisclosed location on June 6, 2014 (Photo credit: Al-Manar/AFP)

The condemnations came hours after the opening salvo in what the United States has warned will be a lengthy campaign to defeat the extremists who have seized control of a huge swath of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border.

President Bashar Assad, for his part, said Tuesday he supports any international effort against terrorism, apparently trying to position his government on the side of the US-led coalition.

Damascus said the US informed it beforehand that the strikes were coming.

Some Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad welcomed the American-led strikes, but others expressed frustration that the coalition was only targeting the Islamic State group and not the Syrian government.

One rebel faction that has received US-made advanced weapons, Harakat Hazm, criticized the airstrikes, saying they violate Syria’s sovereignty and undermine the anti-Assad revolution.

“The only party benefiting from the foreign intervention in Syria is the Assad regime, especially in the absence of a real strategy to bring it down,” the group said in a statement posted on its Twitter feed.

The air campaign expanded to also hit al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, known as the Nusra Front, which has fought against the Islamic State group. Washington considers it a terrorist group threatening the US, although Western-backed Syrian rebel groups frequently cooperate with Nusra Front fighters on the battlefield.

In a meeting Tuesday with an Iraqi envoy, Assad voiced his support for “any international anti-terrorism effort,” according to the state news agency SANA. Assad did not specifically mention the coalition airstrikes, but said Syria is “decisively continuing in the war it has waged for years against extremist terrorism in all its forms.”

He also stressed that all nations must commit to stop support for terrorism — an apparent reference to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are strong backers of Syrian rebels, whom the Syrian government calls terrorists.

In recent weeks, Syrian officials insisted that any international strikes on its soil must be coordinated with Damascus or else they would be considered an act of aggression and a breach of Syria’s sovereignty. The United States has ruled out any coordination with Assad’s government.

Still, Damascus appeared to want to show it was not being left out, vowing in a statement to fight extremist factions across Syria and pledging to coordinate “with countries that were harmed by the group, first and foremost Iraq.”

Syria “stands with any international effort to fight terrorism, no matter what a group is called — whether Daesh or Nusra Front or something else,” it said, using an Arabic name for the Islamic State group.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Washington told Damascus’ UN envoy of the impending raids shortly before they began. It also said US Secretary of State John Kerry passed a message through Iraq’s foreign minister to Syria’s top diplomat to inform Damascus of the plans.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States informed Syria through the US ambassador to the UN of its intent to take action, but did not request the Assad government’s permission or coordinate with Damascus.

The strikes, conducted by the US, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, hit Islamic State training compounds and command centers, storage facilities and vehicles in the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, in northeastern Syria, and the surrounding province, US officials said. They also struck territory controlled by the group in eastern Syria leading to the Iraqi border.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 70 Islamic State group fighters were killed and more than 300 wounded. Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory head, said about 22 airstrikes hit Raqqa province in addition to 30 in Deir el-Zour province.

Farther west, the strikes hit the village of Kfar Derian, a stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

Around a dozen Nusra Front fighters were killed, as well as 10 civilians, according to two activists based in nearby Aleppo, Mohammed al-Dughaim and Abu Raed. One of the group’s best snipers, known as Abu Youssef al-Turki, was among those killed.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press

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