Jordan denies cooperation with Russia in Syria shows shift in allegiance

Jordan has denied that establishing military cooperation with Russia over air strikes in Syria indicates a shift in allegiances. Jordan, which is part of the US-led anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition, said the decision to coordinate air strikes in Syria with Russia simply reflected the reality of operating in the country.

“Russia is taking a major military role in Syria,” said Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, speaking to Al Jazeera on Sunday.

“So it is important and vital for us that we have a coordination mechanism between us and the Russians because the safety of our borders and the southern part of Syria is of special importance to Jordan.” The US has been heavily critical of Russian intervention in Syria, claiming that it is primarily interested in attacking the non-IS opposition and shoring up the government of Bashar al-Assad.

Jordan’s new coordination with Russia is believed to be partly due to the risk of Russian planes striking rebel groups trained by the kingdom in southern Syria.

Many rebel groups have been outraged at the claims made last month by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the Russians stood “ready to assist the Free Syrian Army,” referring to the opposition banner that many rebels in Syria are grouped under. In particular, members of the Southern Front of the Free Syrian Army, a largely secular coalition of opposition groups in the south of country, have received material support from Jordan and have expressed concern about Russia claims that they are only targeting “jihadists”.

“We are highly sceptical of any Russian offers to help the FSA while they continue to hit our areas, bases & kill civilians,” tweeted Isaam Al-Reis, spokesperson for the group.

Other opposition groups in Syria, such as Jaish al-Islam and Al-Nusra Front, have promised to attack Russian forces if they encounter them inside the country.

At least 23 Syrian civilians were killed on Saturday in suspected Russian air strikes on a rebel-held town outside Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The strikes on the rebel district of Douma hit the centre of the town where its main marketplace is located.

The British monitoring organisation said the strikes looked as though they came from Russian planes participating in an aerial campaign that began on 30 September. An officer from the Douma branch of the Syria Civil Defence department told Al Jazeera that three air strikes had hit the residential area of the town.

“The air strikes are targeting the centre of Douma, including a market and residential street,” he said.

“Not just air strikes – rockets are being launched into the city too,” he added.

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