Fighters on Syrian-Turkish border may be Qaeda allies: Russia

MOSCOW Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:53am EDT

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday that militants who have seized control of posts on Syria's border with Turkey may be allies of al Qaeda.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed doubt over claims that border gates captured from government forces on the Syrian side of the frontier had been seized by the rebel Free Syrian Army.

"According to some information, these checkpoints were seized not by the Free Syrian Army at all - whatever one thinks about it - but by groups directly linked with al Qaeda," Lavrov said at a news conference with his Cypriot counterpart.

"We are double-checking this," said Lavrov, suggesting that Western nations should not rush to celebrate territorial gains by opponents of President Bashar al-Assad's government.

"If such processes - the seizure of territory by terrorists - are supported by our partners, then we would like to receive an answer to the question of what their position on Syria is, what they are trying to achieve in that country," he said.

Moscow has repeatedly accused Western nations of encouraging Assad's opponents and said they must put more pressure on rebels to stop the violence in Syria, warning that some of those fighting government forces are extremist militants.

Lavrov's remarks about the border gates came after he accused the United States on Wednesday of trying to justify terrorism against the Syrian government.

Russia has faced vehement Western criticism for vetoing three U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to increase pressure on Assad to stop 16 months of violence.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Andrew Roche)

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