September 26, 2014 / 5:24 PM / 5 years ago

Russia's Lavrov questions legality of U.S. airstrikes on Syria

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia questioned on Friday the legality of U.S. and Arab air strikes in Syria to target Islamic State militants because the action was taken without the approval and cooperation of Moscow’s ally Damascus.

The United States, which has long called for the dismissal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, began air and missile strikes on strongholds of Islamic State in Syria this week, backed up by some Gulf Arab allies. Washington forewarned Damascus of the action, but did not seek approval for it.

“We believe that any action taken globally, including use of force, to overcome terrorist threats should be done in accordance with international law,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Lavrov said that approval was also needed of the country where the action was to take place.

“It’s very important that such cooperation with Syrian authorities is established, even now that it’s an accomplished fact,” Lavrov said. “Excluding Syrian authorities from the struggle that is taking place on their territory not only goes against international law but undermines the efficiency of the effort.”

The United States defended its strikes in Syria in a letter to the United Nations on Tuesday, saying it was justified under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which covers an individual or collective right to self-defense from armed attack.

The United States began bombing strongholds of Islamic State in Iraq last month after Baghdad requested help. The group has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, declared a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East and urged followers to attack citizens of various other countries.

President Barack Obama has sought to rally international support for a military coalition against the group. Lavrov said Russia believed all countries should be strengthened “to oppose threats to their security, including terrorist threats.”

“We are fighting against terrorism consistently, constantly, not just when someone announces a coalition. It’s not just some pop-up idea for us,” Lavrov said. “We actively support countries in the region that are facing the threat and we have been doing so for a long time.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jason Szep and Grant McCool

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