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Syrian Rebels Deny Receiving Russian Military Aid

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 file photo, a Free Syrian Army fighter from the Al-Faruk brigade, center, steps on a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Syria's top Western-backed opposition group has denied receiving aid from Moscow, after Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was supporting the group in joint operations with Syrian troops against Islamic State.

Rebel coalitions aligned with the Free Syrian Army told Western media they are not getting direct Russian support through airstrikes or other forms of military aid.

A rebel leader, Asaad Hanna, said Putin's claim is "categorically a lie." Hanna told the French news agency the Russian government is trying to create a split within the FSA by broadcasting rumors.

Last week, Putin said Russia has provided air cover, weapons and supplies to the FSA, which has long been fighting the Syrian government army.

Russian military leaders have also said Moscow is providing military aid to the FSA.

Shortly after Putin's remarks, the United States said it could not confirm his claim.

The Free Syrian Army has been bombed in past months by Russia.

Providing aid to the FSA would represent a major policy shift for Russia, which has been accused by the U.S.-led coalition of striking moderate rebels in efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, instead of bombing Islamic State targets.

The Russian president also said his country's military action in Syria is aimed at protecting Russia from Syria-based extremists. He said extremists pose a "clear threat" to Russia and recommended the military "immediately destroy" any targets threatening its forces in Syria.