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Venezuelan fighter jet aggressively shadows US plane as Zarif visits

Venezuelan plane aggressively shadowed a US military aircraft

The US military on Sunday accused a Venezuelan fighter aircraft of “aggressively” shadowing a US Navy EP-3 Aries II plane over international airspace, a fresh sign of growing hostility between the two countries, according Reuters.

The encounter between the two planes occurred on Friday, the same day that the Trump administration announced it was imposing sanctions on four top officials in Venezuela’s military counterintelligence agency.

In a statement issued Sunday, the US military said that it had determined the “Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in international airspace for a prolonged period of time, endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing the EP-3 mission.”

The two planes did not collide and no one was hurt in the incident.

The US military did not give details of the EP-3’s mission nor say where the encounter took place.

In a statement published on Sunday by Venezuela’s government, the South American country’s armed forces said they rejected “the incursion of a US reconnaissance and intelligence aircraft” in the flight area surrounding Maiquetia airport, which serves the capital city of Caracas.

The US aircraft was detected in Venezuelan airspace on Friday morning and did not report its presence to local authorities, the statement said, adding that it posed a risk to other planes in the area.

At 11:33 am local time two Venezuelan fighter jets intercepted the aircraft and it was escorted out of Venezuela’s airspace, the statement said.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly used sanctions in an effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose 2018 re-election has been deemed illegitimate by the United States and most Western nations.

Maduro has retained the backing of Venezuela’s military and other institutions, as well as Iran, China, Russia and Cuba.

“The Maduro regime continues to undermine internationally recognized laws and demonstrate its contempt for international agreements authorizing the US and other nations to safely conduct flights in international airspace,” the US military said in a statement.

The statement also took a swing at Russia, saying the close encounter in the air “demonstrates Russia’s irresponsible military support to the illegitimate Maduro regime.”

This encounter also came when Venezuela was hosting a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, with the attendance of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. With Tehran aggressively provoking international powers in the Arabian Gulf area through its hijacking of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, Venezuela’s own provocation could be a sign that Iran’s leaders are urging outside forces aligned with the regime to step up confrontation with the West in an attempt to open up new theaters of conflict and divert attention from Tehran.