LONDON/BEIRUT (Reuters) - An alliance of Free Syrian Army-related insurgent groups said on Monday it was skeptical about a Russian proposal to help rebels, and that Moscow must stop bombing rebels and civilians and withdraw its support for President Bashar al-Assad.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday the Russian air force, which has been bombing insurgents in Syria since Sept. 30, would be ready to help the “patriotic” Syrian opposition.
“Their words are not like their actions. How can we talk to them while they are hitting us?” Issam al-Rayyes, spokesman for the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters.
Russian warplanes have bombed a number of FSA-affiliated groups in northern areas of Syria since intervening in the war on the side of Assad. The Russian air force is providing air cover for several major ground offensives being waged by the Syrian army and allied Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters.
Rayyes added that there was no contact between the rebels and the Russians, clarifying an earlier remark to the BBC that the rebels had not turned down a Russian offer. “There is no offer, there is no communication,” Rayyes said.
“We don’t need the help now, they should stop attacking our bases and then we can talk about future cooperation,” Rayyes said in his earlier BBC interview.
His comments echo the views of other Syrian rebels towards the Russian statement, with Assad’s opponents suspicious that Moscow is working purely to shore up its ally.
The Southern Front alliance operates mostly near the border with Jordan and Israel - an area thus far not targeted in the Russian air strikes, but where the rebels are continuously fighting the Syrian army and allied militias.
The FSA is a loose alliance of groups, some of which have received military aid from Assad’s foreign enemies. They are often led by former Syrian army officers and espouse a nationalist vision for the country.
Such groups have, however, 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.
Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Li-mei Hoang in London; Editing by Toby Chopra