Syria: Australia suspends air operations as conflict escalates

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Russian Federation threatens to target USA coalition planes.

The Syrian army said its warplane was on a mission against ISIS when its fire opened, broadcasting state-run television. The attack began after the pro-Syrian forces attack a USA -backed rebel group called the Syrian Democratic Forces southwest of Raqqa. In April, Russia briefly suspended cooperation after the USA military fired 59 missiles at a Syrian air base following a chemical weapons attack that Washington blamed on the Assad government.

In the first high-level USA public comments about the situation, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday the former Cold War foes are in delicate discussions to restore normalcy to communications and maintain focus on fighting IS instead of each other.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Monday that the downing of the Syrian jet, together with Iran firing missiles into Syria over the weekend, marked "a dramatic escalation in a war the United States had not meant to fight".

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria's war, said government forced captured from IS on Monday the town of Rasafa, expanding their presence in Raqqa province.

"The situation is back as it was in Daraa city and fighting is ongoing", said Daraa-based opposition activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh.

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The missile attack came amid recent confrontations in Syria between USA -backed forces and Iranian-backed pro-government factions.

Activists say a "de-escalation agreement" brokered by Iran, Russia and Turkey in May has brought little relief. The U.S. recently deployed a truck-mounted missile system in Syria as Iranian-backed forces cut off the advance of the U.S. -supported rebels along the Iraqi border.

A Syrian military official in Damascus said the truce was not extended. That led Russian Federation, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, to warn that it would target US -led coalition planes flying west of the Euphrates River.

Australia has suspended its air campaigns over Syria after a USA aircraft shot down a Syrian military jet, prompting the Russian military's suspension of incident prevention channels and an announcement that airborne objects would be tracked west of the Euphrates, local media cited the Australian Defense Department as saying Tuesday.

The shoot-down marks the first time a U.S. jet has downed a Syrian regime warplane, despite leading a massive air campaign targeting IS in Syria for almost three years.

The Russian aircraft flew within a few feet of the U.S. Air Force RC-135, the officials said, characterizing the interaction as both unsafe and unprofessional.

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Russian Federation also denied the USA had used a communications channel before the Su-22 fighter bomber was shot down, as claimed by the US military.

The United States insisted Monday it wants no broader role in Syria's civil war, and seeks only to destroy the Islamic State group, but the weekend incident shows the limits of America's ability to stay disengaged.

"As of June 19 this year, the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation has ended its interaction with the United States side under a memorandum for preventing incidents and providing for safe flights during operations in Syria and demands that the U.S. command carry out a careful investigation and report about its results and the measures taken", the statement reads.

"Australian Defence Force protection is regularly reviewed in response to a range of potential threats", the defence department said in a statement. "We view these actions by the American command as a conscious failure to uphold their responsibilities within the memorandum", the ministry said.

A top Russian diplomat has condemned the United States for shooting down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet the previous day as an act of "aggression".

The move came after the USA shot down a Syrian Su-22 which, the Pentagon said, had bombed US -backed fighters battling IS near the town of Tabqa in Raqqa province.

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Russian Federation has fighter aircraft, air defense weapons and other military assets in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad's government.

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