|U.S. planes fly over Syria without gaining permission from Damascus||
The United States has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant targets there, U.S. officials said.
One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data, AP reported.
While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.
Two U.S. officials said Monday that Obama had approved the flights, while another U.S. official said early Tuesday that they had begun. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter by name, and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The U.S. began launching strikes against ISIL inside Iraq earlier this month, with Obama citing the threat to American personnel in the country and a humanitarian crisis in the north as his rationale. Top Pentagon officials have said the only way the threat from the militants can be fully eliminated is to go after the group inside neighboring Syria as well.
Obama has long resisted taking military action in Syria, a step that would plunge the U.S. into a country ravaged by an intractable civil war. However, the president's calculus appears to have shifted since ISIL announced last week that it had murdered American journalist James Foley, who was held hostage in Syria. The group is also threatening to kill other U.S. citizens being held by the extremists in Syria.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Obama has demonstrated his willingness to order military action when necessary to protect American citizens.
"That is true without regard to international boundaries," he said.
No permission needed to fly planes over Syria
U.S. officials said they would seek no permission to send spy planes into Syria to track ISIL terrorists, AFP reported.
A US official confirmed the plans after Syria said on Monday it was willing to work with the international community, including Washington, to tackle extremist fighters.
American officials said they did not plan to ask Damascus for permission for the flights, despite Syrian insistence that any military action on its soil must be coordinated in advance.
On Monday, Damascus said for the first time that it was willing to work with the international community, including the United States and Britain, to tackle "terrorists" including ISIL and Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front.
But Foreign Minister Walid Muallem also made it clear that Syria would not accept unilateral military strikes by the United States or any other country.
"Any violation of Syria's sovereignty would be an act of aggression," he said.
There would be "no justification" for strikes on Syrian territory "except in coordination with us to fight terrorism".
Muallem said Syria was seeking cooperation within an international or regional coalition, or at the bilateral level within the framework of a recent UN Security Council resolution targeting ISIL and Al-Nusra.
Qatar seeks to free more U.S. hostages in Syria: source
Qatar is working to help free four Americans held hostage in Syria by various armed groups, a Persian Gulf source familiar with the matter said on Monday, a day after the Arab state's diplomacy helped free a journalist held since 2012.
"Four other Americans who have gone missing in Syria have now been located, and Qatar is working to free them," the Persian Gulf source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. He said the hostages were being held by "various groups" but declined to give details.
Qatar’s latest foray into hostage diplomacy brought Sunday's release of Peter Theo Curtis, an American held for nearly two years by al-Nusra Front, an affiliate of al Qaeda.
Qatar's foreign ministry declined to comment.
A Doha-based source close to the Qatari government said without elaborating that Washington was working with Qatar to try to free a number of U.S. hostages in Syria.
The informed source declined to name the four or provide details, but his account was broadly supported by other sources.
The reported initiative by Qatar coincides with an effort by the tiny state to rebut accusations by some of its Arab neighbors and Western politicians that it supports the most anti-Western militant armed groups in Iraq and Syria. Those allegations followed months of criticism by human rights groups over its treatment of Asian guest workers and charges – denied by Doha – of corruption in its successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
The wealthy country, which does back some rebel factions fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has mediated the release of foreign and Syrian captives on several occasions in the course of Syria's three-year-old civil war.
A rebel commander in Syria reached by Skype from Beirut told Reuters that Qatar was continuously trying to secure the release of captives of all nationalities.
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