Europe

Syria conflict: FSA rebels reject Russia military help

Free Syrian Army fighters celebrate taking control of the city of Tal al-Zaatar (13 August 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Free Syrian Army fighters have been put on the defensive by Russian airstrikes

Western-backed rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have rejected an offer of military support from Russia.

An FSA spokesman told the BBC that Moscow could not be trusted and that its help was not needed.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Russia was ready to help the rebels if they attacked militants from the Islamic State (IS) group.

Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, has carried out air strikes in the country since last month.

Moscow says the strikes have mainly targeted IS, but Western powers say most have hit the FSA and other factions backed by the West and Gulf states.

In his offer to the FSA, Mr Lavrov said the Russian air force could support the FSA provided the US shared information about rebel positions.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Russian jets have been conducting air strikes in Syria since late September
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The FSA says that it does not need Russian help

But on Sunday, an FSA spokesman told the BBC that Russia had no role in Syria.

"[Russian President] Vladimir Putin, is assisting a regime that indiscriminately kills their own people," Issam al-Reis said.

"How could we trust the Russians' help?"

Mr Issam said the FSA would continue fighting President Bashar al-Assad, who "was not part of the solution" to ending Syria's civil war.

"If the Syrians stood with Assad he would not ask for invaders to come to Syria," he said.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has also insisted that President Assad should have no role in Syria's "future".

Russian air support has allowed President Assad's forces to launch ground operations in several provinces in recent weeks.

The president for his part on Sunday hosted a visiting delegation of Russian parliamentarians in Damascus.

He again expressed his gratitude for Moscow's support, and said that eliminating "terrorist" groups would resolve his country's problems.


Image copyright AP

Why is there a war in Syria?

Anti-government protests developed into a civil war that, four years on, has ground to a stalemate, with the Assad government, Islamic State, an array of Syrian rebels and Kurdish fighters all holding territory.

Who is fighting whom?

Government forces concentrated in Damascus and the centre and west of Syria are fighting the jihadists of Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, as well as less numerous so-called "moderate" rebel groups, who are strongest in the north and east. These groups are also battling each other.

What's the human cost?

More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed and a million injured. Some 11 million others have been forced from their homes, of whom four million have fled abroad - including growing numbers who are making the dangerous journey to Europe.

How has the world reacted?

Iran, Russia and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement are propping up the Alawite-led Assad government, while Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar back the more moderate Sunni-dominated opposition, along with the US, UK and France. Hezbollah and Iran are believed to have troops and officers on the ground, while a Western-led coalition and Russia are carrying out air strikes.