An alliance of Free Syrian Army-related groups in southern Syria said on Monday Russia must stop bombing rebels before they could talk about cooperating with it, saying they hadn’t turned down an offer of support but Moscow must first halt its attacks.
In comments marking a shift in Russia’s position, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday the Russian air force, which has been bombing insurgents in Syria since Sep 30, would be ready to help the ‘patriotic’ Syrian opposition.
“We didn’t turn down the offer. We just said if the Russians are serious in their offer they should stop immediately targeting our bases and targeting the civil areas,” Issam al- Rayyes, spokesman for the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, told the BBC.
“We don’t need the help now, they should stop attacking our bases and then we can talk about future cooperation.”
Russian air strikes have hit several rebel groups affiliated to the Free Syrian Army in areas of western Syria crucial to President Bashar al-Assad’s survival.
Areas where the Southern Front operates near the border with Jordan and Israel have not been targeted in Russian air strikes, which have struck areas further north.
Groups affiliated to the FSA have been eclipsed in much of Syria by jihadists including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State group – the stated target of the Russian intervention in the war.
But a number still exist, led mostly by former Syrian military officers who defected from the army. Some have received foreign military support, including training from the Central Intelligence Agency, and weapons.
They have been supplied with weapons from states opposed to Assad via Turkey and Jordan. Assad’s foreign opponents include Gulf Arab states and Turkey.