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US rejects Russian accusations its arming militants in Syria

The United States has rejected Russia’s accusations that Washington provides sophisticated military equipment to militants fighting against the Syrian government.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that the outgoing administration af President Barack Obama remains opposed to providing portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS, to militant groups in Syria.

“Our position on MANPADS has not changed. We have a very deep concern about that kind of weaponry getting into Syria,” Toner said.

He said the Obama administration fears that the anti-aircraft missiles could end up in the hands of militants and be used against civilian airliners.

His comments come a day after Russia warned that the US decision to ease restrictions on arming militants threatens the safety of Russian warplanes and military personnel in Syria.

On December 8, the White House said Obama had relaxed the so-called Arms Export Control Act for the militants “supporting US Special Forces” in Syria, saying such leniency would contribute to “the national security interests” of the US.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it viewed the decision as a “hostile act,” and cautioned that the Obama administration was attempting to complicate the situation in the world before President-elect Donald Trump took over the White House in January.

Earlier this month, Moscow warned that the US decision to ease the arms flow to militants in Syria would pose a threat to the entire Middle East. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at the time that US weapons could end up in the wrong hands.

Russia has been lending air support to Syria’s counterterrorism operations since last September. It operates two airbases in the Arab country.

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