Russia Halts Strikes on Syrian al-Qaeda, Citing Rebel Requests

US Had Spurned Russian Offer for Joint Offensive

by Jason Ditz, May 25, 2016

Less than a week after Russia requested joint operations with the US to fight the growing al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, a call which the US rejected, Russia has announced they are putting their unilateral offensive against the group on hold indefinitely.

Russian officials cited requests from 10 rebel factions within Syria to put a halt to the strikes while they separate themselves from Nusra, which controls a major umbrella group in the Idlib Province and is believed to be on the verge of declaring an independent “emirate” in the area.

Russian officials say from this point they will be targeting only ISIS territory. A number of US-backed rebel groups have complained about the targeting of Nusra, citing the group’s “commingling” with them and meaning Russia was targeting “legitimate” rebel groups too.

This became a particularly big problem during the ceasefire, when many parties to the ceasefire found themselves facing strikes because Nusra, not a party to the ceasefire, was embedded with them in the same sites.

The State Department issued a statement urging the rebels to separate themselves from Nusra to make it easier for the US to clearly tell who is and isn’t a proper rebel. They did not, however, comment on Russia’s end to strikes against the group.

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