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Led coalition hits pro-Assad fighters' convoy

19 May 2017

Still, the strike will likely reignite debate about US involvement in the Syrian civil war that had raged after President Trump ordered a cruise missile strike against a regime airfield last month.

"Whatever the reason for the decisions that the United States command made to carry out that strike was, the strike is illegitimate, it is illegal and a regular gross violation of the Syrian Arab Republic's sovereignty", Sputnik news quoted Lavrov as telling reporters.

US officials say an American airstrike has hit pro-Syrian government forces in southern Syria as they were setting up fighting positions in a protected area.

The attacks come as government forces are on the offensive against the extremists in other parts of Syria, mostly in the northern province of Aleppo and the central Homs region and to the east. US -backed and Kurdish-led forces are meanwhile marching toward the extremists' de-facto capital of Raqqa, in northern Syria.

"This brazen attack by the so-called worldwide coalition exposes the falseness of its claims to be fighting terrorism", it said.

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Also on Thursday, SANA reported that Assad met with Iraq's national security adviser Faleh al-Fayad to discuss steps to improve coordination between their countries' militaries in the anti-terrorism campaign along their shared border.

The U.S. forces on the ground were in no danger, but the strikes were deemed to be in self defense because the Syrian regime forces were within about 20 miles of the U.S. position, one military official said.

"Whatever the reason for the US strike was, it was illegitimate and marked another flagrant violation of Syria's sovereignty", Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on a trip to Cyprus.

"We are deeply anxious about the erosion of the emerging understanding of the need to combine efforts of all those who confront terrorists" such as the IS and al-Qaida's branch in Syria, Lavrov said.

But Syria's opposition delegation to Geneva lauded the airstrike, saying it helps curb Iran's influence in his country.

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"The Syrian Arab Army is fighting terrorism on its territory, and no party has the right to determine the course of its operations", the source said.

The office of Staffan de Mistura said Thursday there would be an expert-level meeting with representatives of the Syrian government delegation "on issues and ideas on constitutional process".

"Any military actions that lead to a deterioration in the situation in Syria obviously impact the political process", he said. Targets are selected on the basis of intelligence data from Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The coalition statement late on Thursday says the coalition hit the pro-Syrian government forces after warning shots, a show of force and apparent Russian attempts failed to dissuade those troops from moving into the "de-conflicted area".

The strike took place in At Tanf near Syria's border with Jordan and Iraq, the official said. The area has been considered a de-conflicted zone under an agreement between the USA and Russian Federation earlier this month.

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Defense Secretary James Mattis insisted the strikes do not represent a change in USA policy, but said US troops will defend themselves and partnered forces.