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BEIRUT: A Syrian military official said on Friday that an aerial “aggression” by the US-led coalition on a government military position near the border with Jordan the day before killed several soldiers and caused material damage.

The strike was the first such close confrontation between US forces and fighters backing President Bashar Assad and the development is likely to increase tensions in the war-torn country.

The unnamed official’s comments were carried by Syrian state TV a day after the strike.

The US-led coalition said that a US air strike hit pro-Syrian government forces it said posed a threat to American troops and allied rebels operating near the border with Jordan.

The attack comes at a time when the US presence in Syria is becoming more visible, mostly in the northern parts of the country where American troops are backing Kurdish-led forces fighting the militant Islamic State group.

This “flagrant aggression launched by the International coalition exposes the falsity of its allegation about fighting terrorism and undoubtedly demonstrates the reality of the Zionist-American project in the region,” the Syrian official said.

In Geneva meanwhile, Bashar al-Ja’afari, the head of the Syrian delegation to the peace talks underway in the Swiss city, told reports there that he discussed the air strike during a meeting on Friday with the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, describing the attack as “state terrorism.”

“In every meeting we remind the attendees that there is terrorism by terrorists and also terrorism by states committed against our country,” al-Ja’afari said.

He was referring not only to Thursday’s strike but also to others carried out by the US-led coalition in recent months that have claimed the lives of civilians in areas held by the IS group. Russia, a main backer of Assad, also denounced the air strike.

“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 worried 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 Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Lavrov said.

But Syria’s opposition delegation to Geneva lauded the air strike, saying it helps curb Iran’s influence in his country. He railed against Iran, for its support of the Syrian government.

“Any real effort to combat terrorism and to limit the Iranian influence ... is in the interest of the Syrian people and the people of the region and international peace and security,” said Nasr Hariri, who represents the opposition at the Geneva talks.

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2017