Middle East

Syria says ready to work with world against 'terror'

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem speaks during a news conference in Damascus August 25, 2014. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

DAMASCUS: Syria said Monday that it was willing to work with the international community, including the United States, to tackle "terrorism" but that any strikes on its territory must be coordinated with Damascus.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem made the comments as jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) advance in Syria and neighboring Iraq, where Washington is already carrying out airstrikes.

"Syria is ready for cooperation and coordination at the regional and international level to fight terrorism and implement U.N. Security Council resolution 2170," Moallem said.

The resolution, passed earlier this month, seeks to cut funds and the flow of foreign fighters both to ISIS and to Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, Nusra Front.

Moallem said Syria was willing to work within international or regional coalitions as well as in bilateral arrangements.

And he said Damascus was prepared to work with the United States and Britain.

"They are welcome," he said.

But he said any military action inside Syrian territory must be carried out in coordination with the government and respect the country's sovereignty.

"We must feel that the cooperation is serious and not double standards".

"Any violation of Syria's sovereignty would be an act of aggression," he said.

Asked if Syria's air defenses could shoot down U.S. planes, he said "that could happen if there was not prior coordination."

"We are proposing international cooperation and coordination to prevent" such a scenario, he added.

There would be "no justification" for strikes on Syrian territory "except in coordination with us to fight terrorism."

Moallem's comments come amid rising concern in the international community about the growing power of ISIS, which has declared an Islamic "caliphate" in the large stretches of territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.

The United State began carrying out airstrikes in Iraq on August 8, in bid to halt the group's advances close to the Kurdish regional capital Irbil.

But, in Syria, ISIS has continued to advance, taking territory from both armed opposition groups in northern Aleppo province, and from the Syrian army in northern Raqqa province.

The group's fighters seized the Tabqa air base Sunday, the last post controlled by the Syrian army in Raqqa.

The capture of the base puts the group in control of an entire province for the first time, including the provincial capital which has become a stronghold for its jihadists.

Some 170 Syrian soldiers were killed in the fighting for the base Sunday, with reports that the group had beheaded a number of them and displayed them in the Raqqa provincial capital.

ISIS has developed a reputation for extreme human rights violations and acts that have been described as war crimes, including decapitations, crucifixions and stoning people to death.

Last week, the group distributed a video showing one of its fighters beheading U.S. journalist James Foley, who had been held hostage in Syria.

The group's advance prompted the U.N. Security Council to pass a rare unanimous resolution on August 15 intended to stem funding and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS and Nusra Front.

Moallem welcomed the resolution in his comments Monday, though he said it was "late" in coming.

Syria's government has long said that it is fighting "terrorists," a term it uses for all those seeking the ouster of President Bashar Assad.





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