Europe

Syria war: Russia 'is ready to assist FSA rebels'

A Sukhoi Su-24 fighter jet takes off from the Hmeymim air base near Latakia, Syria (23 October 2015) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Western powers say most Russian air strikes have hit rebel groups including the FSA rather than IS positions

Russia says it is ready to help US-backed rebels in Syria in their battle against militant organisations like the Islamic State group.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Russian air force could support the Free Syrian Army provided the US shares information about rebel positions.

The FSA has so far been among the rebel groups targeted by Russian strikes which have drawn Western criticism.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

It has been bombing targets in Syria since last month and says it is primarily hitting IS positions.

But Western powers say most of the air strikes have hit the FSA and other factions backed by the West and Gulf states.

Image copyright Reuters/RIA Novosti
Image caption Russia insists it wants to save Syria from "terrorists", not prop up Mr Assad

In a TV interview, Mr Lavrov said that the refusal of the US to co-ordinate their anti-terrorism campaign with Russia had been "a big mistake".

The foreign minister said that in addition Russia was ready to support the FSA, but was hampered in doing this because the US was refusing to provide information about rebel and IS positions.

He said that a "correct understanding" of developments in war-torn Syria was emerging among Western politicians amid Europe's migrant crisis.

Image copyright EPA/Russian Foreign Ministry
Image caption Russia and the US back opposing sides in Syria's war

The interview was recorded before talks on Friday with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Vienna. The transcript was released on Saturday.

Mr Kerry said the talks had been "constructive" and that an expanded round of negotiations could take place next week.

On Thursday, President Putin suggested the Syrian regime could be ready to work with some rebel groups against IS.

Mr Putin said President Assad had agreed to the idea on a recent visit to Moscow.

The US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia all support rebel groups fighting the Syrian government.

Russia backs President Assad, whose visit to Moscow on Tuesday was criticised by the US.


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.