Russia 'Strongly Condemns' U.S. Strikes in Syria, Biden's First Military Action

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Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.Credit: RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY/ REUT

The Kremlin said on Friday it was closely monitoring the situation in Syria following U.S. airstrikes there and that it was in constant contact with the Syrian authorities.

President Joe Biden on Thursday directed U.S. military airstrikes in eastern Syria against facilities belonging to what the Pentagon said were Iran-backed militia, in a calibrated response to rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the United States gave Russia several minutes of advance warning before it carried out the strike, a timeframe he described as inadequate, the RIA news agency reported.

Lavrov also called on the United States to renew contacts with Moscow over Syria to clarify President Biden's position on Syria, the Interfax news agency reported.

Ealier on Friday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that they "strongly condemn such actions." The ministry's spokeswoman Maria Zakharova added, "We call for the unconditional respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria." Russia is a close ally of both Syria's Bashar al-Assad and Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaking in Tehran on Tuesday. Credit: Vahid Salemi / AP

Hours after the airstrikes, the Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers spoke and underlined "the need of the West to adhere to UN Security Council resolutions regarding Syria," Iranian government website Dolat.ir said.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to carry out the strikes was meant to send a signal that, while the United States wanted to punish the militias, it did not want the situation to spiral into a bigger conflict.

The official said Biden was presented with a range of options and one of the more limited responses was chosen.

The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist.

Biden’s decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen U.S. military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend U.S. troops in Iraq.

A statement from Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby confirmed the strike in Eastern Syria "destroyed multiple facilities located at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups," naming Kata'ib Hezbollah (KH) and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS).

The U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 17 people were killed in the strike, all Iraqi nationals. Local sources and one medical source also told Reuters at least 17 died.

Syrian state television reported on Friday that a U.S. attack at dawn targeted several areas in Eastern Syria on the Syrian-Iraqi border,  citing its reporter in Deir al-Zor. 

Some Western and Iraqi officials say the attacks, often claimed by little-known groups, are being carried out by militants with links to Kata'ib Hezbollah as a way for Iranian allies to harass U.S. forces without being held accountable.

Since late 2019, the United States carried out high-profile strikes against the Kata'ib Hezbollah militia group in Iraq and Syria in response to sometimes deadly rocket attacks against U.S.-led forces.

Under the Trump administration, the escalator back-and-forth stoked tensions, culminating in the U.S. killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian ballistic missile attack against U.S. forces in Iraq last year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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