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Syrian official warns US: No unilateral airstrikes

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria's foreign minister warned the U.S. on Monday not to conduct airstrikes inside Syria against the Islamic State group without Damascus' consent, saying any such attack would be considered a violation of sovereignty and an aggression.

But Walid al-Moallem also said that Syria is ready to work with regional states and the international community amid the onslaught of Islamic militants there and in Iraq.

“Syria is ready to cooperate and coordinate on the regional and international level in the war on terror,” al-Moallem said. “But any effort to combat terrorism should come in coordination with the Syrian government.”

Al-Moallem's remarks at a news conference in Damascus marked the first public comments by a senior Assad official on the threat posed by the Islamic State group, which has captured large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory.

His comments follow the capture by jihadis of a major military air base in northeastern Syria, eliminating the last government-held outpost in a province otherwise dominated by the Islamic State group.

The group has established a self-declared caliphate in areas straddling Iraq and Syria's shared borders. The United States began airstrikes against the group in northern Iraq earlier this month, and is now considering similar strikes against the militants in Syria.

The Obama administration remains wary, however, of getting dragged into the bloody and complex Syrian civil war that the United Nations says has killed more than 190,000 people.

Al-Moallem said his government is ready to cooperate with any side, including the U.S., or join any regional or international alliance against the Islamic State group. But he said any military action inside Syria should be coordinated with the government, “which represents Syrian sovereignty.”

“Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression,” he said.

Al-Moallem added that airstrikes alone will not be enough to eliminate al-Qaida-linked groups such as the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front. He called for “drying up” their resources including cutting off funding and arming by regional state actors and private donations.

The minister also denounced “in the strongest terms possible” the killing last week of U.S. journalist James Foley by Islamic State militants.

“We condemn the killing of Foley, but may I ask has the West ever condemned the massacres by the Islamic State and Nusra against our armed forces or citizens?” he asked.

He also welcomed the release Sunday of U.S. freelance reporter Peter Theo Curtus, who had been held hostage for nearly two years by the Nusra Front. He slammed the oil-rich nation of Qatar, which said Sunday that it has “exerted relentless efforts” to win his freedom.

“Don't these efforts constitute proof that they (Qataris) are linked to the Nusra terrorist organization” he asked.

Qatar is a leading supporter of the Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad and has been involved in mediating past hostage releases. The country's foreign minister said Saturday that Qatar “does not support extremist groups,” including the Islamic State group, in any way

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