Free Syrian Army reps to meet Russian officials next week

The Free Syrian Army denied its delegations had visited Moscow amid heightened diplomacy on Syria

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A Free Syrian Army delegation has agreed to meet Russian officials in Abu Dhabi late next week to discuss the Syrian crisis, a Russian news agency said on Thursday, but representatives of four FSA rebel groups dismissed the report.

The Sputnik news agency cited a coordinator of the talks as saying the FSA delegation would meet Russian foreign and defence ministry officials.

In late October, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose alliance of rebel groups, denied its delegations had visited Moscow amid heightened diplomacy on Syria. The FSA does not operate with a centralised command structure.

According to the coordinator cited in the Sputnik report, Mahmoud al-Afandi, 28 FSA brigades in the suburbs of Damascus, Quneitra, Hama and the western suburb of Homs, as well as from the northern front and from the suburbs of Aleppo and Idlib, had agreed to meet Russian officials.

He was quoted as saying that the meeting would discuss the creation of a joint operating centre to fight Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the Nusra Front, as well as the search for a political solution.

But representatives of FSA-affiliated groups that receive backing from foreign states opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed the report, with one saying the Russians had been meeting Syrians who falsely claimed to be FSA.

Bashar al Zoubi, a prominent rebel figure, said there was no sign that the Russians wanted an ‘honest solution’ to the war, and therefore there was no contact with them.

Zoubi, who is head of the political office of the FSA-affiliated Yarmouk Army, added that he had not heard anything of the meeting and that Russia had been searching for allies in the rebellion and political opposition to strengthen its position.

Fares al-Bayoush, head of another FSA group, Fursan al Haq, said no FSA delegation was going to meet the Russians.

“They are meeting with Syrians who do not represent anyone, and claim they met representatives of the Free Army,” he said.

A member of the FSA-affiliated Sham Revolutionary Brigades’ leadership council, as well as the head of the FSA group 13th Division fighting in western Syria, echoed the denials.

Russia has recently stepped up its efforts to broker a peace deal between Syrian government officials and members of the country’s splintered opposition. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Tuesday the Kremlin would invite representatives of both sides to meet in Moscow next week.

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