Syrian rebels reject Russian help against ISIS

Russia said it would provide air support to the Free Syrian Army if the U.S. helped it identify where ‘the patriotic opposition’ is

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Syria's Western-backed opposition on Saturday rejected a Russian offer to assist them against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group and dismissed Moscow's call for new elections.

"Russia is bombing the Free Syrian Army and now it wants to cooperate with us, while it remains committed to Assad? We don't understand Russia at all!" said Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Saoud, a spokesman for the Division 13 rebel group.

Moscow began an aerial campaign in Syria on September 30, saying it was targeting ISIS and other "terrorists".

But moderate and Islamist rebels say they have been the target of Moscow's strikes, and that the campaign is intended to prop up President Bashar al-Assad's regime rather than eradicate ISIS.

Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition's main political body, was equally dismissive of an alliance between moderate rebels and Russia.

"Instead of talking about their willingness to support the Free Syrian Army, they should stop bombing it," he told AFP.

"Eighty percent of the Russian strikes are targeting the FSA."

The comments came after Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday that Moscow was ready to support Syria's "patriotic opposition, including the so-called Free Syrian Army, from the air".

"The main thing for us is to approach the people fully in charge of representing these or those armed groups fighting terrorism among other things," he told Rossiya 1 television station.

Lavrov also told the station that he hoped to see political progress in Syria and a move toward new elections.

"I am convinced that most serious politicians have learned their lessons and with regards to Syria a correct understanding of the situation is developing," he said.

"This gives us hope that the political process will move forward in the foreseeable future, by using outside players, to have all Syrians sit at the negotiating table."

"Of course, it's necessary to prepare for both parliamentary and presidential polls," he added.

Nashar said the proposal of new elections now was absurd and accused Moscow of trying "to circumvent the demands of the Syrian people for Assad's departure".

"The Russians are ignoring the real facts on the ground, with millions who have been displaced inside and outside Syria, where cities are destroyed every day," he said.

"What elections are they talking about holding under such circumstances?"

Syria last held presidential elections in June 2014, with Assad re-elected for a seven-year term with 88.7 percent of the vote.
The election was dismissed by the opposition and condemned internationally.

The country last held parliamentary elections in May 2012, and it is in theory due to hold its next legislative vote in 2016.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukri have agreed to continue cooperation in order to help find a political solution to the Syria conflict, the Russian Foreign ministry said on Saturday.

In a separate telephone conversation later on Saturday, Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif agreed to strengthen their cooperation to bring stability and security to the Middle East.

The telephone conversation was at Moscow’s request and followed Lavrov’s talks with the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey about Syria in Vienna on Friday, the ministry said in a statement on its website.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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