Syria rebels debunk Putin claim of aiding opposition

Rebel groups described Moscow aiding opposition groups against ISIS as a ‘lie’

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Syrian rebels debunked reports of receiving aid from Moscow, after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that his air force has been supporting opposition factions battling militants.

Putin, in his annual news conference, said Russia had “found contacts” among Syrian rebel groups fighting ISIS and was backing them with air strikes.


But Arab rebel groups denied the account.

Asaad Hanna, a member of the Northern Division rebel alliance’s political office, told AFP the claim was “categorically a lie.”

The Northern Division is a newly-formed rebel coalition that is part of the loose network of Free Syrian Army (SLA) groups in northern Syria. It is both anti-regime and anti-ISIS.

“With these statements, the (Russian) government is trying to create a split within the Free Syrian Army by broadcasting rumors about working with the Russians,” Hanna told AFP.

Russia has been conducting a nearly three-month air war in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Last week, Putin said Russia was backing some 5,000 members of the FSA with weapons and air strikes.

“This is a lie, there is no relationship between us and them (Russia),” said Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Saoud, a spokesman for the U.S.-backed Division 13 rebel group.

“They are saying this to justify their bombing against us and against civilians in Syria,” Saoud told AFP.

And General Ahmad Berri, known as the FSA chief of staff, said the claim had “no grain of truth.”

In a statement posted by the opposition National Coalition on Wednesday, Berri said a majority of Russia’s strikes were hitting non-extremist rebels, not jihadists.

But he said the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) was also receiving support from Russia.

Russian helicopters had delivered “equipment and logistical aid” to the YPG on at least three separate occasions in the northern province of Aleppo.
Syria’s Kurdish community is dominated by the powerful Democratic Union Party, which is the political wing of the YPG.

After government troops withdrew from parts of northern and northeast Syria in 2012, Syrian Kurds declared many of those areas part of an “autonomous administration.”

Tensions are high between the YPG and armed Arab opposition groups in some of these areas, with rebels accusing Kurdish fighters of ethnic cleansing and collaborating with the regime.

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