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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said his country is ready to support the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with air strikes and cooperate closely with the US in fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and other factions.
The calls for cooperation came after at least 44 people, including six children, were killed in 24 hours due to Russian and Syrian air strikes across the country, particularly in Idlib province, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) reported on Saturday.
Russia says its strikes are against ISIL and other “terrorists”, but rebels and the US, which is conducting its own campaign against ISIL and some rebel factions, say Moscow has focused more on opposition forces than ISIL.
“The Americans’ refusal to coordinate their anti-terrorist campaign with us is a big mistake. We are seriously prepared for such coordination,” Lavrov said on Saturday.
“We are ready to give air support to the patriotic opposition, including the so-called Free Syrian Army, but we need to get in contact with the people who will have the authority to represent certain armed groups.”
Lavrov’s offer on Saturday was immediately rejected by Syrian rebel factions, which dismissed the idea they could cooperate with Russia while it supported President Bashar al-Assad.
“Russia is bombing the Free Syrian Army and now it wants to cooperate with us while it remains committed to Assad? We don’t understand Russia at all,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Saoud, a spokesman for the Division 13 rebel group, according to the AFP news agency.
Russia launched an air campaign in late September ostensibly against ISIL and other “terrorist” groups, but the FSA says most of the air strikes are targeting them and other moderate opposition groups.
Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the opposition’s main political body said “80 percent” of strikes had hit the FSA.
“Instead of talking about their willingness to support the Free Syrian Army, they should stop bombing it,” he said.
The offer of air strikes in support of the FSA came as Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on about organising talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.
In a telephone conversation held at the request of the US side, the Russian foreign ministry said on its website that the two men had also discussed tapping the potential of other countries in the region to push the political process forward.
Lavrov also spoke to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif about the need to strengthen their cooperation in order to bring stability and security to the Middle East.
Russia wants Egypt and Iran to play a role in bringing a solution to the conflict in Syria, which has raged on since 2011.
Elsewhere, battles have intensified between government forces, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group and opposition fighters in Hama, Aleppo and Idlib in the past 24 hours.
Meanwhile, Hadi al-Abdullah, a media activist in Idlib, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that the air strikes in Idlib and Hama have not stopped over the past few days.
“The air strikes do not stop during the day, nor during the night, they are endless. Russian air strikes have intensified on Idlib, Hama and Aleppo in the past few days – the air strikes are targeting civilian areas.
“Syrian rebels captured two villages in Hama province and have destroyed so many tanks. In reaction to this, Russian air strikes have intensified.”