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U.S., Russia sign deal to avoid conflict between warplanes over Syria

The deal follows an incident last week in which Russian and U.S. jets came within miles of each other.

By
Fred Lambert
An F-22A Raptor taxis in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility prior to strike operations in Syria on Sept. 23, 2014. On Oct. 20, 2015, U.S. and Russian officials said they signed an agreement designed to avoid conflict between both countries' warplanes over Syria. UPI/Russ Scalf/USAF
An F-22A Raptor taxis in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility prior to strike operations in Syria on Sept. 23, 2014. On Oct. 20, 2015, U.S. and Russian officials said they signed an agreement designed to avoid conflict between both countries' warplanes over Syria. UPI/Russ Scalf/USAF | License Photo

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- U.S. and Russian officials announced Tuesday the signing of an agreement designed to avoid conflict between both countries' warplanes in Syria.

The BBC quoted Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook as saying the text of the agreement would remain secret, but Cook indicated a hotline would be established on the ground for both countries to communicate.

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They would not, Cook said, share intelligence about targets in Syria.

The agreement comes after Russian and American jets flew within miles of each other during sorties last week.

Earlier Tuesday, CNN reported U.S. military pilots were directed by their commanders not to react to any Russian military planes flying in Syria and to proceed with standard aviation safety procedures. A U.S. official told CNN Russian jets had in the last two weeks flown within 500 and 1,500 feet of U.S. warplanes on two separate occasions.

The BBC quoted Russia's deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, as saying Tuesday's deal "contains a number of rules and restrictions aimed at preventing incidents between American and Russian planes."

A U.S.-led international coalition has since September 2014 been conducting airstrikes against Islamic State positions in Syria, and Russia intervened on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad late last month, conducting multiple sorties that have killed nearly 400 people, according to activists.

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Russia insists it is attacking IS militants and other "terrorist" groups, but Western leaders accuse Moscow of propping up Assad, its regional ally, by mainly striking other opposition groups considered more moderate than IS or al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front.

U.S. Central Command on Tuesday reported conducting two airstrikes in Syria the previous day, attacking an IS headquarters building in Raqqa and a mortar system used by the militants in Tal Jibbin.

The Russian Foreign Ministry says over the previous 24 hours it conducted 55 combat sorties against 60 targets in the Hama, Idlib, Damascus, Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Latakia provinces.

A Russian airstrike on Monday killed at least 45 people, including women and children, in a rebel-held area of Latakia province, heartland of the country's ruling Alawite minority and stronghold of pro-Assad forces.

Russian officials say they attacked IS fighters, but activists say the militant group has little to no presence in the northwestern coastal province.

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