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Syria government urges U.N. chief to avert 'looming dam catastrophe'

A general view shows the Tishrin dam south of Kobani, Syria December 27, 2015. REUTERS/Rodi Said

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria’s government urged U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to demand that a U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State militants stop targeting the Euphrates and Tishrin dams and surrounding areas “to forestall a looming catastrophe.”

In a letter to Guterres and the Security Council, released on Thursday, Syria’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Mounzer Mounzer wrote that residents along the Euphrates River in Iraq could also be affected by the “systematic sabotage of infrastructure.”

“The total destruction of these dams that are being targeted by the air strikes will wash away and flood cities, towns and villages, endangering the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living in those areas,” Mounzer wrote.

The international coalition and the Pentagon were not immediately available for comment. The U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes in Syria against Islamic State militants since September 2014.

The United Nations last month warned of catastrophic flooding in Syria from the Euphrates dam, which is at risk from high water levels, sabotage by Islamic State and further damage from air strikes by the coalition.

“The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic calls on the Security Council and the Secretary-General to compel the United States of America and the members of the ‘international coalition’ to stop targeting the Euphrates Dam, the Tishrin Dam and the surrounding areas and other infrastructure, in order to forestall the looming catastrophe,” Mounzer wrote.

The Russian-backed Syrian army has advanced rapidly in recent weeks to the western banks of the Euphrates River.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in an interview broadcast on Saturday, called U.S. forces in the country “invaders” as they were not there with the government’s permission.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish