Stop bombing us, Syrian rebels tell Russia

London/Beirut, Oct 26

An alliance of Free Syrian Army-related insurgent groups said today it was sceptical 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 September 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.

France hosting Syria talks today

Paris, October 26

France is organising a meeting on Syria to take place in Paris tomorrow involving its “principal regional partners”, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

“We are working to organise a new meeting involving the principal regional partners tomorrow in Paris,” the spokesman told AFP, without specifying who would take part.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced on Friday that he wanted to bring together several of his counterparts from western and Arab countries to discuss the Syrian crisis.

“I invited our German, British, Saudi and American friends, and others, to Paris next week... to try to move things forward,” said Fabius.

His comments came on the same day that leaders from Russia, the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia gathered in Vienna, notably in the absence of France.

Fabius said the meeting in Paris would not include Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “There are other meetings where we will work with the Russians,” he said. His entourage said Turkey and Saudi Arabia were invited to Paris, but not Iran, which is closely allied to Russia and the Syrian government.