Syria says it is ready to work with the US to fight “terrorism” as the UN accused jihadists in Iraq of “ethnic and religious cleansing”.
The US is poised to send spy planes into Syria to track militants, preparing the way for possible air strikes against jihadists there, a senior US official said, as the most senior US military officer warned they will soon threaten America and Europe.
The White House, however, said President Barack Obama had so far made no decision on whether to launch air strikes on Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria.
Syria, locked in a civil war with various rebel groups including IS since March 2011, said for the first time that it would work with the international community, including the US, to tackle the Islamist problem.
But Foreign Minister Walid Muallem insisted at a news conference that any strikes on Syrian territory must be co-ordinated with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“Syria is ready for co-operation and co-ordination at the regional and international level to fight terrorism and implement UN Security Council resolution 2170,” Muallem said in the Syrian capital.
The resolution, passed earlier this month, seeks to cut funds and the flow of foreign fighters both to the Islamic State and to al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Al-Nusra Front.
Western powers fear the IS “caliphate” – a successor state to historic Muslim empires – could become a launchpad for a new round of global terror attacks.
Those fears were exacerbated by the grisly IS beheading of American journalist James Foley, who was abducted in Syria.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said abuses by IS and affiliated groups in Iraq against non-Arab ethnic groups and non-Sunni Muslims involved targeted killings, forced conversions, abductions, trafficking, and destruction of holy and cultural sites.
“They are systematically targeting men, women and children based on their ethnic, religious or sectarian affiliation and are ruthlessly carrying out widespread ethnic and religious cleansing in the areas under their control,” Pillay said.
“Such persecution would amount to crimes against humanity,” she said in a statement.
Iraq is struggling to regain huge tracts of the country after the jihadists fought a lightning offensive, seizing the second city Mosul in June and sweeping through the country’s Sunni heartland.
The IS militants have also taken control of parts of Syria contiguous to the land seized in Iraq, declaring an Islamic “caliphate” straddling both countries.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that the threat posed by the group will “soon” expand to both the United States and Europe, his spokesman said on Monday.
Washington has ramped up its rhetoric following Foley’s beheading, calling it “a terrorist attack against our country” and said operations against the group in Syria may also be necessary.
US warplanes for more than two weeks have carried out a limited air campaign against the IS in Iraq, with most of the bombing raids conducted near Mosul dam in the north.
Citizens from various Western countries are fighting for IS, further raising fears that they could carry out attacks at home.