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Free Syrian Army fighters say Russia is punishing Assad opponents

As Russia launched more airstrikes in Syria, President Obama announced that the U.S. would not use the Syrian conflict as a superpower proxy war. Overnight, the U.S.-led coalition demanded that Russia stop targeting groups other than the Islamic State. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports that fighters with the Free Syrian Army say they are being attacked.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Russia again launched airstrikes in Syria today in a bid to bolster the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

    But, in Washington, President Obama said the U.S. will not cooperate with the Russian campaign. And he insisted he will not turn the Syrian conflict into a superpower proxy war.

    Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Day three of Moscow's air campaign, and the Russian military said its planes hit 18 Islamic State positions across Western Syria.

    But the U.S.-led coalition charged again that, in fact, the Russians are not limiting their strikes to ISIL. This was President Obama this afternoon:

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    But what was very clear, and regardless of what Mr. Putin said, was that he doesn't distinguish between ISIL and a moderate Sunni opposition that wants to see Mr. Assad go.

    From their perspective, they're all terrorists. And that's a recipe for disaster.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Overnight, members of the U.S.-led coalition demanded the Russians stop targeting other groups.

    The NewsHour spoke today with two Free Syrian Army fighters backed by the U.S. They said they have been hit, even though the Islamic State is long gone from their areas.

    Captain Walid is a communications engineer and an FSA commander in Talbiseh, north of Homs, on a strategic road that runs from the capital, Damascus, north to Aleppo.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    There is no organized ISIS presence here. There could be sleeper cells. We can't eradicate them all 100 percent, no matter how much we attack. Today, we have seen Syrian air force reconnaissance and attack fighter jets. There were air attacks on villages nearby, by the Russians and the Syrians, as people were leaving the mosque.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Sheik Abdulrazak is also with the FSA in Talbiseh. He sent this video of a reported Russian attack, and says it's clearly aimed at punishing opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    We expect more attacks here, because Talbiseh was one of the first areas that went against the regime, and it caused them a lot of damage. That's why they are so fixated on this place and the surrounding areas. It is like a feud with us. If there is any attack, God forbid, on Talbiseh, it will be a massacre. They will annihilate us all as revenge.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And, Captain Walid warns, that day of reckoning may be fast approaching.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    According to our intelligence, there are gathering Syrian troops in the surrounding area. There are also regime troops near Hama. These are preparations for imminent battle. And it's possible they will use the effectiveness and accuracy of the Russian fighters as an air cover for this or any other future battles.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    At the United Nations today, Syria's foreign minister seemed to confirm coordination between Russian airpower and the Syrian army.

  • WALID AL-MOALLEM, Foreign Minister, Syria (through interpreter):

    Airstrikes are useless unless they are conducted in cooperation with the Syrian Arab army, the only force in Syria that is combating terrorism.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin was in Paris, for a meeting ostensibly about Ukraine, but he reportedly spent an hour discussing Syria with French President Francois Hollande. Russian officials suggested today their air campaign could run three to four months.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Margaret Warner in Washington.

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