A coalition of countries including Qatar has called on Russia to “end its aggression” against Syrian rebels and civilians and instead focus its fight on ISIS.
Russia began airstrikes over central and northern Syria this week to go after the Islamic State and Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, among other groups, authorities said.
However, Qatar and other nations supporting the ouster of embattled Syrian president Bashar Al Assad accused Russia of targeting opposition forces, which currently pose more of a threat to the regime than ISIS.
In a joint statement released yesterday, the third day of air strikes, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France, the UK and the US said:
“We express our deep concern with regard to the Russian military build-up in Syria and especially the attacks by the Russian Air Force on Hama, Homs and Idlib since yesterday which led to civilian casualties and did not target ISIS.
These military actions constitute a further escalation and will only fuel more extremism and radicalization. We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIS.”
In the past, the coalition of nations has helped arm and train rebel fighters, including reportedly in Qatar with US help.
French President Francois Hollande met with Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday to express concerns about the airstrikes.
According to the Associated Press, Hollande told reporters, “Russia has always been involved in Syria. Since the beginning, Russia has supported the regime of Bashar Assad and furnished him weapons, even if it goes further now.”
Meanwhile, rebel groups reportedly hit by the airstrikes have asked the US for antiaircraft missiles to defend against the assault.
The Washington Post quoted one rebel leader whose stronghold was struck by bombs yesterday as saying:
“We need one of two things. Either a clear policy from the United States to prevent Russia and the regime from bombing Syrians, or otherwise they should send us antiaircraft missiles so that we can confront the Russian planes.
“If they don’t help us, people will lose trust in our supporters, and this will increase extremism.”
A US military official told the newspaper that the request for weapons was being considered.